Big Hair Chronicles

Once upon a time, a young black girl was standing in line along with her friends waiting to be approved by athletic trainers to play a sport for Linfield. She was laughing and all of sudden another one of her acquaintances enters the line. She greets her with a hug and, because she was so short, her hair was in direct sight and therefore at its utmost vulnerability. Her acquaintance then ruffled her voluminous puff ball of hair. She was taken aback by this, but she did not think much of it. A few moments later, a young man who was standing in the back of the line proceeded near the front to join his friends. On his way there he decided to stop next to the Black girl and ruffled her hair. He had a history of touching her hair and she reacted accordingly by telling him to stop what he was doing. Some may think that he stopped after he was asked to; however, it did not resolve that way. He decided to ruffle her once more for satisfaction. The young Black girl then told him to stop in a more irritated manner. He then laughed and walked away. Later that day, feeling her frustration building, she decided to post on social media that no one is allowed to touch her hair anymore. Putting her foot down, her Black friend commented, “I can still touch it!” with great pride. Although the young black girl had lots of love for her black friend she responded by saying, “Only when you are doing my hair, but other than that I cannot allow anymore exceptions.”

You may be shocked to read that situations like this actually happen here on the Linfield campus, but the truth is that it happens to me almost every day. In fact, someone ruffled my hair today — the same day that I am writing this blog entry. This is only an issue surrounded by race and culture not only because we make it so, but because Black hair is so distinct, transformative, versatile, and different from “the norm.” It creates an impression that it is somehow exotic, peculiar, and mysterious, when in actuality it is simply harassment, dehumanization, and violation of personal space.

Do you know that saying, “The sword is an extension of your arm?” As this saying is most relevant to the sword fighting scenes of Lord of the Rings, it is incredibly related to my hair being an extension of my body and culture. Being African American or Black on this campus includes playing the role of “educator.” I actually love when students ask me questions about my hair because I do know that it is special and unique; however, its uniqueness is also quite burdensome. Sometimes students like to ask with their hands and not their mouth. Some like to explore the mysteries of my shapeable hair. Although it is quite flattering that some are curious, it is also very intrusive to touch my hair, regardless of whether or not you ask.

Now the previous statement may be read as an opening to touch my hair when asking for permission. The effects of this permission to touch will actually cause more harm than good. As you would ask to touch a luxury car at an auto show, which is an object to be observed, some would ask to touch my hair. In result, my hair would be objectified and observed without ever thinking about how I feel. This experience is also the result of historical white oppressive attempts to objectify Black slaves and establish superiority by fetishizing and “othering” black hair.

Some may say, “No that’s not the case! I really do like your hair.” If your goal is to not objectify my hair, if I may be a bit blunt, then JUST compliment my hair. It can also be said that I may be getting too emotional about this matter but those who are unfamiliar with this experience would understand if their friends continued to touch their hair without consent even after they have told them not to. Therefore, in order to ease the curiosity of those who wonder how exactly I sculpt my hair, I will create a list of questions/comments that are commonly asked or said to Black women about their hair:

“How do you get your hair to stay down?”

There is a hair product specifically for laying African American hair flat, and it is called “edge control.” Once I apply that, I wrap my hair into a silk scarf and sleep with it overnight.

“How do you get your hair so curly?”

Water.

“Do you wash your hair?”

I am sure most human beings wash their hair, yes I wash my hair.

“Why do you wear a scarf?”

I wear it to be stylish for when I go to bed… No, I actually wear it to prevent my hair from getting frizzy before I go to bed.

“Is that a wig, or is that afro really yours?”

In reality: No, it is not a wig, this is my natural hair.

In my mind: Let’s see. If I am Black, and I wanted to wear my hair out naturally, I don’t think I would buy a wig to hide my natural hair. Well, at least they asked instead of finding out for themselves.

“OMG It’s so fluffy!”

Yes, thank you so much!

“Can I touch it?”

No thank you.

I have only mentioned a few of the many questions or comments that I am sure other African American women can add to. There is also another issue to resolve with this matter. It may be assumed that only non-black students touch my hair; in actually there are plenty of black students who have also touched my hair. There is a belief that only black people are allowed to touch my hair for the very reason that they are Black. That is not a fact. Other Black women may touch each other’s hair when they are styling it, washing it, blow drying it, and straightening it; however, it is not being done for pure amusement. In fact, Black women in salons or on the door steps of their neighborhoods that get together and do each other’s hair is the creation of a community and a unity of Black women through social interaction of kinship relations within the neighborhood; it is not an anatomy lab examining the wonders of Black hair and its deviance from the norm. Unfortunately, there are some Black students who may partake in this forbidden act because they feel entitled to do so. As I have mentioned that my duty is to play the role of “educator,” I will clarify this dilemma. NO ONE, no matter the color of their skin, is entitled to touch, squeeze, or ruffle my hair.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just hair!”

It is not just hair, it is me. It is an extension of my body and my culture and it should not be touched, ruffled, or squeezed for anyone’s amusement or curiosity. Stop and stare, but PLEASE DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR.

 

Jade Everage is a member of the President’s Diversity Advisory Committee and Co-President of the Black Student Union.

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Linfield’s Community Inauguration Share, Listen, Reflect!

Join the Diversity Advisory Committee and members of the Linfield community as we gather to honor Linfield’s values of human rights, diversity, and inclusion this Friday January 20th, 2017 from 9am to 11am. Together we will share and create the Linfield culture we want as we approach the upcoming chapter of American History.  Students, faculty, staff, and community members will be able to openly share and mindfully listen to the values and experiences presented following the 2017 Presidential Inauguration.

Schedule of the Event
Presidential Inauguration Viewing– 9am
Presentations and Performances – 10 to 11am

Would you like to present, perform, or reflect upon the inauguration? Here is how it works!  Choose your presentation format, sign up for a 5 minute slot, and let us listen and learn from you.

Presentation Formats:
Powerpoint
Read a poem
Sing a song
Interpretive dance
Skype presentation (if not on campus)
Other performance

Attend, listen, share, reflect!

SIGN UP TO PRESENT

Our goal is to promote, advance, and confirm Linfield’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. We strive to provide a safe space on Inauguration Day for ALL members of the Linfield Community to come together, listen, and reflect upon the values that make Linfield diverse and inclusive. Everyone is welcomed, we encourage positivity and open-mindedness during this time in American history.

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Is Spanglish even a real thing?

On Thursday, October 27th Linfield College will host our first National Spanglish Day celebration on campus. On this day, the Linfield community will come together to promote bilingualism, biculturalism and diversity through Spanglish. Students will share original creative pieces that speak of their own bilingual experiences.

What language do you feel most comfortable speaking? When I arrived in the United States as a teenager, I was frequently asked about my native language. I grew up in a bilingual home, with a Spanish-speaking mother and Portuguese-speaking father, a home where both languages were used interchangeably from the start. As a young child, I was not aware they were different languages; the words that I processed and used, though they drew equally from Spanish and Portuguese, were for me a single and natural form of communication. What wasn’t clear to me then is clear to me now – it was our form of communication, a language unique to my home and family. When we moved to the United States I incorporated English into my repertoire of daily languages, further enriching the complex linguistic household milieu. As I look back on my years studying language acquisition and identity, from all of my experiences and the places languages have taken me, one thing has become evident: I am most comfortable around those who can translanguage. Translanguaging is a dynamic process where multilingual language users generate new meanings and create new ways of communication using the resources they have as a result of their multiple languages. In situations where all of my native languages interact with one another, I can fully express myself. As a bilingual, I have learned to appreciate those spaces where I feel most free to speak from within, without translating or facing judgments about accuracy, from all parts of me.

Language evolves, and my comfort level in any one language has never been fixed, having changed at different times of my life. For instance, English was not my strongest when I first arrived to the US, but trying to belong and form a new community forced me to work on it until eventually encounters did not routinely end with inquiries of where I was from or why I had an accent. I was later told I sounded “native.” My Spanish re-thrived when I finished a Masters in Spanish, and finally my Portuguese received an extra boost as I went to Mozambique for my doctoral research. Regardless of my temporary strength in one or another, comfort for me is the ability to switch and combine languages, it is creating a space where my hybrid identity is whole.

Why should we celebrate Spanglish as a practice? In its most basic conception, Spanglish is a mixing of Spanish and English, a dynamic fusion of both into something unique. It is a form of language contact that includes linguistic features such as borrowings, extensions, calques, and code switching. Spanglish is not indiscriminately interspersing Spanish and English; like any language, Spanglish has rules. In practice, it follows a set of highly complex and structured guidelines, sociolinguistic strategies, and constraints. Spanglish is not random.

It can come as a surprise to some to learn that the majority of people who code-switch do not do so because of a deficiency in one or the other language. Instead, code-switching is often used to emphasize a point, cite someone directly, to express a concept that doesn’t exist in one language, to change the topic of conversation, to build solidarity among speakers, and as an identity marker. In the US context, Spanglish is often employed as a mark of bilingual competence and shared community, enabling a particular group of people to identify with one another and increase effective communication. In other words, in the majority of instances we use Spanglish because we can, because we choose to, and because it is part of our identity.

There are language purists dismayed by Spanglish, who argue that it should not be promoted, much less celebrated, that it is a mixed and incorrect way of speaking, one that should be emphatically discouraged. In stigmatizing speakers who fail to use a “standard” or correct Spanish, they lament the loss of “true” Spanish in the United States. An alternative view, shared by proponents of Spanglish, sees languages not as static units but as part of a shared social existence. From this perspective, language evolution is natural as global and diverse cultures increasingly connect. In communities all over the US, including our very own in McMinnville, many see Spanglish as the form of communication that most enables them to express themselves fully.

Spanglish and Spanish are not mutually exclusive. As my bilingual students and I discuss in class, Spanglish is not “incorrect”, though it may be more appropriate in certain situations and might be inappropriate in formal discourses. For heritage language students, Spanish class is there to support them in maintaining their languages, develop academic skills, increase their options in both writing and speaking, encourage students to explore prestige and stigmatized forms of Spanish and expand their bilingual range. By changing the negative attitudes associated with particular languages and dialects, students develop cultural awareness and reinforce their own identity.

All of us arrive at our language use through different trajectories. One of these might be the path of a Chilean-Brazilian-Oregonian, speaking Spanglish and Portuñol; others may have an entirely different, equally unique blend of experiences. With this in mind, I urge us to move away from the guilt associated with an “imperfect” language, and instead validate Spanglish as a pathway to promote bilingualism and biculturalism, to celebrate our diversity by communicating in a language that is part of who we are.

The idea that bilingualism is an identity in itself, not simply two identities in one, is what motivated me to help provide a space for bilinguals to celebrate their diverse experiences and share their voices through their own perspectives of biculturalism. Bilinguals are not two monolinguals in one. I am proud to host our first college-wide Spanglish Day celebration.

Please join us in celebrating National Spanglish Day at Linfield College this Thursday, October 27th from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm at the Multicultural Center in support of student experiences. Prizes will be awarded and music and snacks will be available.

Hope to see you there!

Sandra Elena L. Terra received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Second Language Acquisition. Dr. Terra is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Linfield College.

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Empowering Latino Student Identity Through Writing and Creative Projects

If you asked me some years ago what entering Latino students need most to thrive in a university environment where they are threading through unfamiliar territory, given my background in languages and literatures, I would have said, they need to strengthen their writing skills as it is essential in so many areas of their college education. I’ve slowly begun to change that mentality in favor of a more personal investment in their learning approach. It’s not that I no longer think writing is crucial to their success in college, but rather as an educator of the whole person, I’ve moved toward using writing, and other forms of creative communication, as an opportunity for students to reflect on their experiences. Our Latino student population, many of whom are first generation students, specifically benefit from these types of activities that help them come to grips with their identity. Through journaling and end of semester creative projects they have delved into aspects of their identity that perhaps they’re exploring for the first time. Not only have they reflected individually on what being a Latino college student means, but they have also collectively developed a sense of group identity and bonding that goes beyond the confines of the classroom. However, in order for this type of work to happen, a safe space, where their stories are validated, needs to be created.

For many incoming first year students at Linfield the Inquiry Writing Seminar is a dreaded class that all are required to take regardless of their previous experience with writing. Even the ‘experts’ need to think of themselves as novices, as a famous article suggests. With this motto, for over five years in my class for bilingual and heritage speakers of Spanish, I set out to reinforce writing skills by immersing this population of students in the Spanish language that for many of them is their native tongue. To support their search for identity we deal with topics that touch upon bilingualism, interculturality and social issues that continue to impact Latinos all over the U.S. Yes, I confess, my aim initially was for us to create a sense of community and thereafter hammer the standard forms of Spanish while devoting a significant number of class hours to workshops on different aspects of writing. All our work would culminate in an end of semester research project where as expected, they would reflect the conventions of good writing in Spanish which they could then transfer to any class in English. To my chagrin, I found that year after year, while my intentions were well received by some students who produced quality work, there were others simply going through the motions, not feeling thoroughly invested. A number of questions began to pursue me about how to find a balance between skills students need to develop or enhance and how to redesign assignments to validate their cultural experiences. Given that one of our goals at Linfield is integrative learning, one year I asked them to think about how they might apply an aspect of their major to the novel we were reading. It so happened that year that there were two art students who collaborated on a painting. What they produced was truly illuminating in terms of how deeply the experience of the two young protagonists, whose paths cross at critical junctures in their lives, had touched them. It was then that I decided to sacrifice the more traditional pedagogy that framed my class objectives for a more personal approach that was more liberating.

Why, one could ask is this turning to the self something first generation Latino students or others, for that matter, benefit from? Well for starters, research on bilingual/heritage learners shows that they need to feel a sense of connection to the materials they are engaging to spur their motivation. “Identity trumps grammar” is what leading linguists who work with this population are telling instructors. Do I hear in these words the mandate to do away with grammar and the conventions of writing? Not quite so blatantly. Rather, I have learned that by foregrounding activities and assignments that allow students to explore the many layers of their identity as individuals learning to live between different worlds, they must first grapple with conflicting narratives about who they are. Often they feel torn between their family identity and that of young college students. Add to that a gender lens, given that most of my students are young Latinas living away from home for the first time, and their identity gets all the more complex. All this plays itself out in one form or another during their college years and in our classrooms. Why then, not use the classroom space to reflect critically and constructively about these matters that are foremost in our students’ minds?

In recent years, through creative projects that reflect themes in the novel we read, my students have begun to make sense of their often entangled identity web. I have seen a family tree tracing deep cultural roots through several generations; a rosary with beads symbolizing different aspects of their Catholic faith; a stitched butterfly that reminds a young woman of the freedom she longed to have as a college student getting ready to further expand her wings to take her abroad; or a poem about the movement of waves as a way to inhale and exhale to feel life in all its vibrancy but also in its most vulnerable stages. The possibilities for connecting the self with experiences described in the novel are endless, as I’ve come to realize. And only by giving students free rein to find those connections, can they really tap into the fountain of free expression that’s swelling up in their innermost being as they learn to become young adults.

Nonetheless, this seemingly haphazard way of engaging with a work in an academic class, has a shape and form, an introduction, development and conclusion that can then be transformed into a piece of writing that’s engaging, meaningful and innovative. But most importantly, it leaves students with a takeaway, not just for their own personal growth but also for that entire class community they have all helped to build and that toward the end of the semester becomes very cohesive. That creative energy is so eloquently released as students share with fellow classmates those deep underlying currents the novel moved in them or those dormant fears, images or memories it awakened and that they now display through an artistic medium. Often the session when they present their work, turns into a catharsis of sorts and for some even a rite of passage to emerge renewed, with a new layer of skin to help them face challenges ahead. Thus, is the power of art that no well-structured essay with language perfectly polished, can unleash.

Conversely, such creative energy reverberates in my veins long after those end-of-term presentations have concluded, reminding me too of my own fluid identity as a person constantly negotiating between all the spaces I inhabit and that I’ve learned to make my own. My fifteen years at Linfield witnessing the institution change from a primarily White middle class student body to our present day population of students of color hovering around 35%, as well as my own background as a Latina and first generation college student, puts me in the position of being a teacher-mentor, a role I have embraced with conviction. In the end, my hope is that classes and the projects I’ve described above, serve to remind students of how far they have come and how vital those cultural roots they now nurture will be as they find their own path in the myriad of possibilities college life offers them.

To my fellow colleagues I pose the question: If we’re not already doing so, why not make our classrooms spaces where students’ with diverse backgrounds feel their experiences are validated? This should not only happen in classes such as mine where they operate within their own cultural frameworks but also in the larger college context. Consider, for instance, encouraging students to find those connections that speak to them, their culture or their communities in class assignments as much as possible. By doing so, we strive for more inclusivity and diversity in our curriculum. And if we provide the space to share with others, we can uphold in our classes one of the tenets of the Diversity Advisory Committee’s mission which involves “Ensuring a sense of place where ALL community members can engage, model, and celebrate our diverse identities and differences.”

 

Dr. Sonia Ticas received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 2001 in Romance Languages and Literatures. She has been at Linfield since 2001 teaching courses in Spanish language at all levels, Latin American literature and culture classes including Latin American cultures through film, Latin American women writers and historical figures. A native of El Salvador, her published work focuses on the history of women’s suffrage in the region and the study of women’s literature from the first half of the 20th century. She has published a number of articles studying the interplay of literature and women’s changing societal roles and is working on a book on the Salvadoran women’s suffrage movement.

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Reflections of a Tragic Week From Minnesota and Baton Rouge to Dallas

After I agreed to share my thoughts regarding the tragedies of last week in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, it seems I’ve been dragging my feet putting my thoughts into shareable words. Truthfully, I’m still gathering my thoughts and examining my feelings over everything. You see, I am a biracial woman who identifies more and more with the Black community. I was one of the “highlighted” students at Linfield; I was one of twenty-four African and African-American students on a campus of 1600. I know what it’s like to be watched because the color of my skin. I’ve been stopped for not being the right shade in a neighborhood. I’ve been followed inside stores. I worry about my friends, family, and potential children becoming a hashtag.

I am also a 911 dispatcher. I know the majority of the women and men that serve as police officers do so with integrity and pride. Most officers entered their profession wanting to make a difference. They are the ones that run towards danger when the average person runs the other way. Luckily I have not had an officer injured while I worked the radio, but I was working the night a neighboring agency lost an officer. I remember the silence on their radio frequency, the empty and helpless feeling while we waited for updates on the situation. My heart aches for the Dallas officers, their families, and their colleagues. I worry for the safety of my friends and coworkers.

The videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are heartbreaking. However, I can’t judge or comment on those videos. I don’t work for those departments. We’re only seeing a portion of complex situations. It’s easy to second guess the actions of the officers and/or the victims in situations you have never experienced. It’s also easy to dismiss protesters with overly simplified statements such as “If she/he followed the police instructions, they’d still be alive.” Life is not that simple. People have followed rules and they’re still dead.

I am a supporter of Black Lives Matter. I am also a supporter of law enforcement. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Our system needs to be reviewed. It needs to be updated. We need to acknowledge our history and discuss how it affects our current society. We need open dialogue to move forward. We need unbiased news reporting.

Honestly, I’m tired. I’m tired of reading similar headlines year after year. I’m tired of holding my head up, hoping for change.

 

Dena Morales graduated from Linfield in 1999 with a degree in Anthropology.  She lives in Seatac, WA and has served the Port of Seattle for 12 years.

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White Mom, Brown Kid: Worry for My Boy of Color

Nine years ago, when I joined the Linfield English department, I remember introducing myself at the new-faculty orientation by saying, “If I look like I haven’t brushed my hair for three weeks—I haven’t.”

This was not because I felt casual in the face of the Linfield adventure then beginning for me.  It was because, three weeks earlier, I’d begun another adventure: binding my life with that of a baby boy whose birth mother in Guatemala had placed him for adoption.  That baby, Joaquin, rode with me around Linfield on my hip in a blue and white gingham sling, sporting two gleaming teeth and displaying a great zest for drama (he once tried to eat a microphone as I spoke into it).

He was—and is—a merry and magnetic person, lodged so deep in my heart that I sometimes forget that his experience of the world is significantly different from mine.  It’s not just that adoption has separated him from his birth family, country and language, and he must grieve that loss—his dad and I can help him, but we can’t do it for him—it’s also that he’s a brown kid in a white family.  He’s a brown kid in a browning-but-still-white-dominated country.  He’s a brown kid who, as recent events have shown, will always be more vulnerable than a white kid to prejudice and discrimination, and at worst, physical harm.

During Joaquin’s lifetime, a black man has been elected president and a Latina woman has ascended to the Supreme Court (give’em hell, Sonia).  In the same period of time, thousands of black and brown men and boys and women and girls have been unfairly profiled, targeted, injured or killed by police officers.  They have been attacked and murdered by vigilantes. They’ve been tried, sentenced and incarcerated in unfair ways and at unfair rates.  And their school experiences have prepared them for this trail of tears: statistically, black and brown kids are much more likely to be suspended and expelled from school than white children are for identical offenses.

Some white Americans have ways of deflecting our attention from these problems, usually by blaming the victims: “Well, they must have done something wrong.  They didn’t show proper respect to police.  They shouldn’t have had outstanding warrants, they should have paid their child support, they shouldn’t be trying to hustle a little income selling cigarettes or CDs, they shouldn’t have fought back, they shouldn’t have mouthed off, they shouldn’t have run, they shouldn’t, they shouldn’t, they shouldn’t…”

What about what white America should and shouldn’t do?

When I began to write this piece, two black men had been killed by police officers in the span of a couple of days.  By the time I got to the second paragraph, five officers were dead in Dallas, Texas, killed by a deranged mass murderer who (this time) happened to be an African-American.  Ferocious verbal combat has broken out, without any effect except to further a useless sclerosis of rhetoric, pitting police against people of color.  Please. The fact that a group of cherished, honorable men are killed in the line of duty by a maniac should not distract us from the long, slow bleeding of liberty, potential, and life itself from people and communities of color.

In a few years, my Guatemalan-American boy will be driving a car, hanging out with his buddies, beginning to establish his independence from the umbrella of care I placed over him when I became his mother. When I read the news, I flinch inside.  It feels like anything could happen out there to my beloved, irreplaceable child.  It already has happened to the beloved, irreplaceable Trayvons and Tamirs and Erics and Sandras and Philandos of many other mothers.  It just takes one hinky situation, one bad night, for all of our lives to go forever sideways.

Admittedly, my son will experience a thick layer of the protections that come with being part of an educated, healthy and financially stable family.  He won’t be driving a beater car he can’t afford to keep registered.  If he has the misfortune to become physically sick or addicted or mentally ill, he’ll have heath care and people to nurse him and to intervene on his behalf. If he’s ever arrested, he’ll have a decent lawyer.  If he’s treated unfairly, he’ll have people to advocate for him—white people– who have the time and the skills to show up in court, write an op-ed, or contact a congressman.  He’ll know the ropes of white culture; he’ll speak English, understand his rights, and expect to be treated with respect and fairness.

Still.  This kid’s mild layer of ADHD, his slight speech impediment, combined perhaps with adolescent impulsivity, a sneaked beer or two, and a break-up that’s left him surly or spaced out?  He’s already got attitude, and like everybody, he makes some lame choices.  It would be easy for him to piss somebody off, to look like some smart-mouthed Latino kid who had it coming.  Would I hear then that he shouldn’t have talked back?  Shouldn’t have run away?  That he “charged” somebody with a knife?  Whatever I’d hear, it wouldn’t matter, because life for me would be over.

And when I imagine that feeling, when I get close enough just to begin to imagine it, I am full of rage at the forces that have made those feelings an unholy reality for so many families. People say, “Well, that kid was no angel.”  Nobody is an angel! These forces, of course, are not just the poor judgment or bad training of a few police officers. They include also the toxic masculinity of a handful of creeps with guns as well as weak gun laws—yes, they are weak, despite the paranoid foamings of the National Rifle Association–and judges and lawmakers who get “tough on crime” by throwing more and more disadvantaged people in jail without education inside or support when they get out.  Above all, I resent the systemic racism that has kept people of color poor, segregated and powerless.  I began benefiting from the disparity before I was born, and my son began suffering from it when he entered the country with a baby-faced green card.  It is truly painful for me to admit that this is America, but it is.

In his monumental book Far From the Tree, the great writer and interviewer Andrew Solomon explores the ways in which children may have “horizontal identities,” aspects of their selves that they share with no one in their family of origin.  My child’s horizontal identity is to be Latin American—in looks, if not culture.  My inherited racial privilege can protect him somewhat, but not wholly.  I can only tell him, “If a police officer tells you to do something, sweetie, do it.  Keep your hands in plain sight, and don’t ask questions.”

But I can ask questions, and so can Linfield students.  College is a time of questioning, as well as learning.  I see Linfield graduates out there making a difference every day, helping this nation, incrementally, to become the exemplar of justice it was founded to be.

We can do it.  Si, se puede.  Yes, we can.

Anna Keesey teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories. 

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Latinos, Black Lives Matter!

For centuries Black people have been fighting an uphill battle and standing up against a system meant to repress, a system that continues to be unfair, unjust, and dare I say, inhumane. Standing up against injustice, Black people have taken the lead in defense of their communities, which we all benefit from and we have seen a steady growth in the Black Lives Matter movement. At the same time, it is not hard to see that we Latinos have been largely absent from widely standing up with Black people. Why? Are Black people’s struggles so much different than our own that we’ve lost empathy? Are we so engaged in oppression Olympics that we think, “at least it’s not us”? Or are we light-skinned and privileged just enough that we don’t have to think about Black lives? The reality is the Black struggle is our struggle and we need to be present and vocal in support of Black people.

There are many parallels in our communities’ struggles, and I struggle to come up with reasons why we Latinos have not been more vocal. Black and Brown men are over-represented in our prison system. Our communities have been affected for decades; Crips, Bloods, Norteños, Sureños, what’s the difference? They’re all detrimental and divisive. From rap to corridos, we both have resistance music. Black women and Latinas are still at the bottom of the earnings ladder, and we all know how hard they work. The Black community is demanding fair treatment by police, an end to racial profiling, and justice where justice is due. Is that not what we expect both from police and in our case, la migra?

Injustice and grief is difficult regardless of whom the perpetrator is, we too have experienced the pain of losing loved ones due to institutionalized repression in our own Latin American countries. Through centuries of conquistas and religious missions that have wiped out millions of indigenous people and all the residual effects of manifest destiny, we know suffering, we know pain. Today our Latino communities continue to have many needs and it’s important to continue to fight for our needs. But we also need to follow the lead of our Black brothers and sisters as the Black community fights against systems keeping our communities in fear. Fairness and justice for Black people is fairness and justice for Brown people, what’s good for Black people is good for Brown people.  In the face of racism, discrimination, and stereotypes, can one really distinguish the difference between Black, Cubano, Dominicano, Puertoriqueño, or Veracruzano? In a world where race continues to matter, the darker the skin, the harder the battle.

As Latinos, we have a long history of fighting political, religious, and social oppression and have great history of fighters who sought justice. Emiliano Zapata, Cesar Chavez, Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo, el Padre Romero, and Rigoberta Menchú to name a few, all stood up against injustice. I believe that if they lived in our community today, they would be standing side by side with the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. To date, according to the Washington Post, 509 people have been killed by police. If these deaths were proportional to the demographics of our country, 61 would be Black. 123 Black people have been killed by police, twice the demographic average. This is a problem that must be addressed and we Latinos have a responsibility to speak up and be part of the solution.

So how do you know it’s your responsibility and it’s time to support the Black Lives Matter movement? Here’s a start.

  • If you’ve experienced racism…it’s time.
  • If your foot trembles when you see red and blue lights in the rear view mirror…it’s time.
  • If you’re afraid someone you love will be incarcerated or killed…it’s time.
  • If you’ve gone to an immigration rally and wondered where the non-Latinos are…it’s time.
  • If you or someone you love fears la migra…it’s time.
  • If you’ve been followed by security at the mall…it’s time.
  • If you’ve dyed your hair blonde because it would make you look more White…it’s time.
  • If you’ve been told you are not college material…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever played loteria and said buenas con el negrito…it’s time.
  • If people slowed their speech so you could understand their English…it’s time.
  • If your name has ever been changed so it’s easier to pronounce…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever heard the word “illegal” in reference to brown people…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever watched novelas and realized all the dark-skinned people are “the help,”… it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever been told to stop speaking Spanish…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever been told to go back to your own country…it’s time.
  • If you’ve never experienced any of the above, it’s time to ask yourself what unearned privileges you enjoy and how you can use that privilege to make an impact in Black lives…it’s time.

As Latinos, we experience these micro and macro-aggressions and fight through implicit and explicit bias on a daily basis. We are also impacted by institutional isms (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) in education, health care, the criminal justice system, politics, and business. These are the same battles Black people are fighting and in order to make collective progress, we must unite and support the movement. There is no doubt in my mind that our country, communities, and even our own families are divided. There are many divisions between Black and White, Black and Brown, Black and Blue, republican and democrat, rich and poor, men and women, and many others. Division cannot continue between police and our communities, we have a symbiotic relationship; we need each other in order to thrive. Is it too much of a stretch to think that if Black people feel safe in ALL our communities, then police officers will feel safe in their own police duties? Fear on all sides must be eradicated. Trust must be rebuilt, and that requires dialogue, collaboration, healing, empathy, and an end goal of love and peace. I challenge all of us to find ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement and to use whatever level of influence we have to demand respect, justice, and accountability. Como dijo Benito Juárez, “Entre los individuos, como entre las Naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.” Let’s unite and demand respect for Black lives…it’s time.

Gerardo Ochoa is Assistant Dean for Diversity and Community Partnerships at Linfield College.  You can follow him on twitter @gerardoochoa

Here’s further food for thought:

5 Steps Latinos Can Take to Combat Anti-Blackness

Latinos Cannot Be Silent to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

11 Powerful Photos of Latinos Standing ins Solidarity With Black Lives Matter

The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

The next time someone says ‘all lives matter,’ show them these 5 paragraphs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I Like Your Hat! Can I Touch It?”

It’s early. Really early. I stumble my way out of bed like a toddler learning how to walk, put on my scrubs, and get myself ready for a 12 hour shift at the hospital.  I get there, find my nurse preceptor, and off we go to receive report on our patients. So here I am, a student (strike one) who’s skin is much more brown than you would expect from someone living in a state with little sunshine (strike two) with a scarf on her head (strike three) walking into a stranger’s room, while the news channel they are watching is debating if Muslims should be allowed into this country, expecting them to trust me enough to care for them for the next 12 hours.

“Hi, my name is Sara, I’m a student nurse at Linfield, and I will be helping take care of you today!” I introduce myself, charming them with a big, warm smile, hoping that will be enough for them to get over at least one of the three strikes. I stand there anxiously, trying to read their body language, awaiting their response, and hoping I wore enough deodorant that day to overcome my current state of perspiration. And surprisingly, it works: both the deodorant and my patient’s positive reception towards me.  But why does it work? Could it be my smile? Friendly personality? Maybe they just received a dose of morphine? Perhaps it’s simpler than that. Perhaps my patients don’t see those strikes. Perhaps they merely see someone whose job is to care for them, for which they are grateful. Yet, I go in there overthinking and doing the one thing I don’t want people to do to me…stereotype. I (wrongly) think that because my patient is from a certain demographic that they are going to think of me in a negative light. With all that’s going on in the world these days, how could I not have my guard up? Instead, they are very kind and very curious to learn more about me and my background. And que the questions:

Q: Why do you wear that on your head?

A: Why do you wear pants?

 

Q: Where are you from? Like, before Portland…where did you come from?

A: My mother’s uterus.

 

Q: I like your hat! Can I touch it?

A: No.

 

Q: Does the color of your scarf mean anything?

A: It means it’s what’s clean.

 

Q: Wow, how is your English so good?

A: Wow, how are your manners so bad?

 

Q: What color is your hair?

A: Actually I’m a red head. I’ve got a Blake Griffin thing going on.

 

Q: Is it only married women that have to wear a towel on their head?

A: Gosh, I think I hear my instructor calling me…

Ok, fine, those were not my true responses to those questions. But all those questions have been questions I have been asked, no exaggerations. It’s hard to answer these kinds of questions, especially in a professional manner. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), I am used to it and have become fairly good at answering respectfully and professionally. I have also become pretty good at reading someone’s intentions when they ask me these questions and typically, most people have good intentions and really are just wanting to learn more. For all I know, I am most likely the first Egyptian and/or Muslim they have ever met.  Because of the way I dress, it can make it easy for people to stereotype me. For example, people sometimes assume I don’t know how to speak English, that I am very conservative, or that I am repressed because I cover my hair. In reality, the opposite of those stereotypes is true and as soon as someone starts talking to me, they have that realization.

On the flip side, I had the opportunity to use my Arabic language skills to make a new dad more comfortable after his daughter was born. Once I found out where he was from (a question that I did not ask him, for the record), I began to converse with him in Arabic. I immediately saw his face light up, shoulders relax, and attitude change. Because we were able to connect on a level that he had not been accustomed to in his short time here in the States, he felt more comfortable asking me questions and took more initiative in providing care for his newborn daughter.

While we all have different life experiences which have helped us shape how we view the world, I am able to bring a perspective from a culture that is not only a minority in America, but one that has been misunderstood and misrepresented, especially in the last decade or so. I carry that with me all the time; not as a burden, but as an opportunity. Every interaction I have with someone new, I hope to make a lasting, positive impression on them, slowly changing the misconceptions of my culture, one conversation at a time, one patient at a time.

As I turn the corner into my last semester of nursing school, I have learned that confidence makes all the difference in the world. Walk into your patients’ rooms like you belong there, because you do. But have enough humility to know what you don’t know and stop to ask questions.  You are there to care for people potentially during the toughest days of their lives. They may or may not care about your ethnic or religious background, but they will always care about your compassion, confidence in your skills, and ability to provide quality patient care. Oh, and have a good sense of humor. Because whoever said “laughter is the best medicine” was so right.

Sara Hussein is a fourth semester student at Linfield Good Samaritan School of Nursing.

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Transitions; Being First Takes Courage My Story as a First Generation College Student

As my senior year of college approaches I find myself thinking back to my arrival at Linfield. I will never forget the feeling of excitement and utter nervousness as my dad and I made our way to Linfield. When the cab stopped in front Riley Hall, I remember standing in front of the building in disbelief. I hadn’t had the resources to visit Linfield prior to the First Clas orientation and it was there, standing on the steps of Riley that college had finally felt real. I can still remember the look on my Papi’s face as he got out of the cab, a mixture of the same excitement and nervousness. This was his first time not only at Linfield but on a college campus. His educational journey was cut short by the need to provide for his family. So there we stood, all the way from Alaska, accompanied by my eight suitcases (yes eight!) and the very real sense that we were about to enter uncharted territory.Suitcases As a First Generation college student and the oldest of three siblings, coming to Linfield was not only a big step for me but for my family. Attending Linfield signifies the revival of my family’s educational journey and the promise of a brighter future.

The last three years have exceeded my expectations, but there are days where I feel as nervous as the girl who stood outside of Riley with my life packed into eight suitcases and great expectations. Perhaps the greatest of my expectations and personal goal was the desire to immerse myself in the Linfield experience. This may sound obvious, “Why wouldn’t you make the most of your Linfield experience?” Yet it isn’t so simple, as a First Generation college student I arrived at Linfield acutely aware of how lucky I was to be amongst the crowd of scared first years. I had grown up hearing my Mami’s stories of hard times where the need to work took precedence over education. I have lived through hard times and I value the sacrifices my parents have made so that I can continue my education. It is because of this that I entered Linfield with the objective of honoring my parent’s sacrifice. I would treasure the opportunities that came my way and always seek new experiences.

As I set out to accomplish this promise, I was often plagued with an aching worry that as I entered uncharted territory I would become lost. Like many First Gen college students, the question of, “Do I belong here?” lurked in the background as I began my college career. As I navigated the daily stresses of the world of higher education, I found myself encountering questions I wasn’t sure I had the answers to. How does one find internships? What are office hours? Should I go to them? What does work study mean? In many ways these were usual First Year questions. Yet, it was as I watched my friends call their parents to look over their essays that new questions arose, I couldn’t help but feel that pang of do I belong? I thought back to my phone calls with my parents, “Sara, what is a care package?” I wasn’t embarrassed of these questions, I shared them, what were care packages? Did I have to send my family one in return? Couldn’t I just buy cookies and treats on campus and avoid the hassle of having them mailed to me? I must admit I’m still wondering about that last one.

Despite my confusion surrounding college traditions such as care packages, I found myself slowly learning the path to achieving my goals. I sought out opportunities to learn exactly how one finds an internship, I began to understand the importance of networking and establishing professional connections. This wasn’t easy. However, I found that as I placed myself in situations that might have been temporarily uncomfortable, such as speaking to the Board of Trustees or accepting a position as an Alternative Spring Break coordinator, the feeling of uncomfortableness was replaced with confidence in my abilities. It was with this confidence that I set out to find an internship in DC for the summer after my junior year. I came across the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) Congressional Summer Internship program in November of my junior year. The program prides itself in providing paid Congressional internships accompanied with weekly professional development seminars for Latino college students. I was nervous about the highly selective nature of the internship program, the feeling of nervousness returning, the, “Why would they choose you?” sat in the back of my mind as I worked on my application. Yet, too often we allow this insecurity to steal opportunities away from us. I have come to understand that there are many factors that work against me, but we must not let ourselves be one of them. When opportunities come our way, it is our right and our duty to reach out and seize them. When I received a phone call from the CHCI in April, I trembled with excitement as I heard the words, “You are one of thirty-four students selected to participate in our program.” I will be spending eight weeks in DC because I refused to allow my insecurities to dictate my path and instead chose to believe in my abilities and potential for success.

I share these moments of anxiety and insecurity because I know that as I walk through campus with the confidence of a junior and three years of successes and failures, I am not immune to these bouts of do I belong? I imagine that somewhere on campus is a first year student or a visiting high school senior also the first in their family to attend college, asking themselves the same question. So it is to them that I share this advice; when you feel the familiar feeling of worry, remember that your journey to Linfield is a source of pride. Remember your goals, seek out opportunities, and when in doubt breathe in and tell yourself this, I am here. I deserve to be here. I belong. 

Sara Gomez is a senior at Linfield College and a student representative on the President’s Diversity Advisory Committee. Follow Sara on twitter @Gomez95N.

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