Monday, April 30, 2012

More thoughts on AZ HB 2281

Today, in a heroic day-after-Spring-Fling early morning effort, I took the D1 bus from Broadway St., New Haven, to Martinez School, on the other side of town across the river. I had volunteered to speak to a 4th and 5th grade classroom about my college experience, my family’s immigrant background, and how the two conflicted (or didn’t, more precisely). I was excited, and nervous- you never know how people will react to you, regardless of their age.

I introduced myself with basic information- I’m in my second year at school, I’m something called an “Ethnicity, Race and Migration Major”, I’m from San Diego, and my paternal grandparents never went to college. On my mom’s side, my ancestors hail from Pasadena, Hawaii, and, further back, Western Europe. My father’s family is from Sonora, Mexico (this elicited gasps, perhaps because of my white skin).  Besides the moment when the inevitable 4th grade question about my relationship status was asked (or, put by the young girl inquiring, “Do you have boy crushes?”), my mention of the Mexican History seminar I’m currently taking generated the most immediate excitement. From the moment I told them about this class, it was all the students wanted to ask me about. Martinez is 80% Hispanic, and a large number of the student's families immigrated here from México. This is a salient detail as far as it relates to my belief that "Ethnic Studies" classes in public schools are key to engaging students from diverse backgrounds. Young people want to learn about  history that they perceive to be relevant to their own experience. This does not apply just to teaching Mexican and Mexican-American history: as a young boy named Edgar proudly reminded his teacher, there are large numbers of Puerto Rican-American students, as well as other Hispanic groups, learning in classrooms across the nation. In fact, in an ideal world, ethnic studies curriculum would encompass everything from the Mexican Revolution, to the African diaspora, to the modern day relocation of Iraqi Muslims and Christians to the U.S. 

That is one reason why the Arizona school board's and state government's recent and targeted destruction of the Mexican-American Studies classes formerly taught in the Tucson Public School District is so devastating. By refusing to allow instructors to teach their students (the majority of whom are Mexican-Amercian) about the history of indigenous and Hispanic people in the U.S., within a school district founded by a Mexican-American man, Arizona has handicapped a whole ethos of learning which could one day lead to a host of classes that incorporate more than simply white, American-settler and Western European king-type history.

As I fielded questions from the eager 9- and 10-year-olds about whether I was aware of the volcano in México apparently about to erupt (no, run for the hills!!), if I could speak and write in Spanish (mostly, and yes), and what I thought about Pancho Villa (I'll save that for another blog post), I felt happy, filled with their enthusiasm. I only wish that the legislators in Arizona had bothered to visit one of these classrooms before they passed their ignorant law.

For a more in-depth commentary on HB 2281, Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban, see Yale Daily News Op-ed:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

MEChA de Yale Meets Dolores Huerta, and other tidbits

This past week the past, the present, and the future of MEChA de Yale merged in incredible ways.

At the beginning of this week, we welcomed dozens of prefrosh from the incoming Class of 2016 to Yale. We spoke to prefrosh at the Extracurricular Bazaar, mingled with them at the La Casa dinner, and chatted about Yale life over chips and homemade guacamole. MEChistas were eager to convince the prefrosh to come to Yale and to join MEChA, and in the process, were reminded of the dozens of reasons they picked Yale in the first place. To the prefrosh reading (and according to our conversations, we know you are!) we wish you the best of luck in the college decision process and hope that some (if not all!) are joining us this fall in New Haven.

This past weekend, MEChistas also participated in the Yale Latino Alumni Reunion, where we met with dozens of old MEChistas. From the first MEChistas who broke barriers and established the strong Chicano and Latino community on campus to more recent graduates of Mother Yale, five decades of Yale MEChistas met in the old Chicano center (now the AACC) and discussed stories of past struggles, tales of fun and debauchery, and the future of MEChA de Yale. Current MEChistas were reminded of the incredible legacy forged by old MEChistas and of the Herculean battles taken on by these MEChistas to make Yale a more diverse, aware, and inclusive place. MEChistas walked away with a greater understanding of their heritage as activists and were reminded of the incredible resource they have in their alumni. To the dozens of MEChistas who once blazed the trails we walk, we current MEChistas are grateful and indebted. In addition, we look forward to expanding communication with our wonderful alumni.

In another event that reminded MEChistas of the legacy of those who came before them, MEChistas met with and listened to the great Dolores Huerta, the Chicana labor and civil rights activist who led the great grape boycott of the 1970s and fought for better working conditions among migrant farm workers alongside the late Cesar Chavez. Dolores Huerta spoke to the YLAA Reunion participants and was presented with multiple gifts from its members and from MEChA de Yale, who presented her with a handmade Catrina figure. MEChA de Yale was inspired by Ms. Huerta's words and will take to heart her calls to fight bigotry, sexism, racism, homophobia and other myopic views within our own Chicano community.

MEChA de Yale is thankful to its many readers, contributors, and supporters for an incredible year. We invite all readers to keep an eye out on our blog this summer, as our MEChistas will continue to write throughout the summer from all over the world.

Con MEChA Amor,

MEChA E-Board, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Romney lacks Hispanic support

While Mitt Romney may have the Republican presidential nomination all but secured, his lack of Latino support could cost him the election in November.
People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up 16.3 percent of the country’s population, and only 14 percent of this group said they would vote for Romney, according to a Fox News poll conducted in March — significantly less support than Republican presidential nominees have enjoyed from Latinos in past years. Leaders of Latino advocacy organizations in New Haven and on campus said Romney is particularly unattractive to Hispanic voters because of his stance on immigration issues.
“If [Romney] is trying to convince Latinos to vote for him, he’s doing it the completely wrong way,” said Chris Rodelo ’15, a member of Yale’s MEChA and the undocumented students advocacy organization Connecticut Students for a Dream.
Romney has taken a hard line on immigration issues. He said he would veto the DREAM Act — which would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents who complete two years of college or military service — and is supportive of the Arizona anti-immigration laws, which gave local law enforcement the authority to detain anyone suspected of being undocumented and made failing to carry immigration documents a crime.
Romney’s anti-immigration rhetoric, students said, is also contributing to his unpopularity among Latinos. For example, Rodelo said, Romney has made statements suggesting that the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States should be deported. Benjamin Wilson ’14, a member of the Yale Political Union’s conservative Federalist Party, also said Romney’s rhetoric has been less than “stellar,” pointing to Romney’s statement that the answer to unlawful immigration is “self-deportation.”
New Haven’s Latino community — 27.4 percent of the city’s population — has paid close attention to Romney’s positions.
According to community leaders, Elm City Latinos are concerned by Secure Communities, a new federal deportation program that checks fingerprints of suspected criminals submitted by local police to the FBI against Immigration and Customs Enforcement databases in an effort to deport criminals residing in the country illegally. Megan Fountain, a volunteer for immigrant advocacy organization Unidad Latina en Accion, said while Secure Communities is intended to target dangerous criminals, in practice it has led to the deportation of people who have only committed minor infractions.
Though Secure Communities was an initiative of the Obama administration, several Hispanic leaders said that if elected, Romney would likely continue to support the law and others like it, whereas they are hopeful that Obama will be receptive to calls for reforming the program, said Carolina Bortolleto, the college access program coordinator for Connecticut Students for a Dream.
Concern over Secure Communities is not limited to border states, she said. Though Connecticut will not be an influential swing state in the 2012 presidential election, the Hispanic vote in border and and non-border swing states such as Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado could be crucial. These four states have a total of 49 electoral votes and an average Hispanic population of 29 percent.
In general, Rodelo said, the Latino community has leaned toward Democratic candidates. Diana Enriquez, the moderator of MEChA, said the Democratic Party has made an effort to establish relationships with clergy members in Latino communities. She added that while it is sometimes difficult to believe that immigration laws will change under the Obama, his administration has taken some steps in the right direction.
But the Latino vote does not hinge exclusively on immigration issues, Rodelo said, calling the Hispanic community “a lot more nuanced than that.”
Wilson cited Bush as a Republican candidate who was able to appeal to a large portion of the Hispanic population because he spoke to Latino voters respectfully. The conservative element of the Hispanic community is significant, Enriquez said, and a Republican candidate who capitalizes on it could do some “serious damage” to Obama’s electoral prospects this fall.
Hispanics make up 13.4 percent of Connecticut’s population, according to the most recent census.

Friday, April 6, 2012

On Class at Yale

I want to begin by acknowledging that many of things I will say are incredibly problematic. While I recognize that I can often be irrational and risk losing creditability in these bouts of emotion, the sentiments I express here have long been gnawing at my very being. Through this blog post, I wanted to finally voice my frustration.

I’m often accused of surrounding myself with other Latinos. Close-minded, intolerant, maladapted—why must race filter friendships Michelle? I, unable to deny that most of my phone contacts have Hispanic last names, struggled to justify my apparent intolerance. After all, I had come to the same conclusion weeks before and already spent nights tormenting myself with this reality.

Why the hell can’t I just befriend other Yalies?

Then it became obvious. I walked into the dining hall this past Monday as returning students shared their spring break exploits. While reaching for cereal, one blonde, blue eyed girl shared wild tales of evenings spent lounging on gorgeous Mexican beaches. She noted that her adventures came cheap; the hotel only charged about 300 dollars a night.

300 dollars… the exact same amount I desperately attempted to hunt down 2 years ago. My grandmother had just passed away and my mother, firmly holding her tears in, watched over my shoulder as I opened tab after tab trying to find a flight under 300. Since my family in Mexico couldn’t afford a private funeral, she would be buried by the state and the state policy dictates that she buried within the next day. I refreshed the page compulsively, biting my nails every time the page reloaded.

But despite my attempts, despite how fucking hard I pressed the godamn mouse, the price never fell below five hundred. After an hour, we walked away from the computer, our feet dragging across cold tiles, and reconvened in the kitchen. Nobody said anything for the better part of that night.

I cried that night, I cry now. I cry every time I remember how much pain money has caused my family. While it is just paper, an abstract thing that gets you four dollar drinks, it’s broken me down time and time again. I can’t explain this to most Yale students because they don’t understand. I can’t explain to them how every time I buy overpriced coffee, I feel like I’ve betrayed my parents by allowing the bills that they gripped tightly to slip from my own hands.

While I recognize that these students aren’t at fault, that they never intended to do me harm, watching their spending habits, their carefree attitude wears me down. So at the risk of sounding intolerant, I can’t stand being around so much money. It acutely reminds me of the sweat and toil of my displaced parents, of how my raggedly flea market clothes never cost more than 3 dollars, of how despite wearing my Mexican heritage proudly, I haven’t been in 15 years---of how poor I am. It’s hard to relate to others.

I don’t intentionally mean to surround myself with other Hispanics, I’m just desperately trying to form a community around myself that understands where I’m coming from. As I mentioned before, I know I’m in the wrong, but can you really blame me for not being able to bite my lip meal after meal while you tell me how beautiful Cancun is?

Michelle Piñon

Monday, April 2, 2012

Students, Community Members March for Trayvon Martin (YDN)

On Saturday afternoon, Yalies and New Haven residents donned hooded sweatshirts and marched from Dixwell Avenue to City Hall to protest the fatal shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.

The march, which was organized by the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY) and co-sponsored by other activist groups from Yale, New Haven and elsewhere in the state, aimed to raise awareness about racial profiling and the need for unity among local groups taking steps to combat it. Called "Hoodies Up New Haven," the march and subsequent rally at City Hall commemorated Martin, a 17-year-old high school student who was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 while walking home from a convenience store wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Echoing nationwide demands for Zimmerman's arrest and "an end to racial profiling," Saturday's march hoped to promote an additional message: that Yale and New Haven must join forces to address local problems of discrimination.


"This is not a problem just for the black community," said Nia Holston '14, political chair of BSAY and an organizer of the march. "[Racial profiling] is something that affects all of us."

Holston said the tragedy in Florida has prompted BSAY to work toward calling attention to racial profiling in New Haven and become more involved in social causes within the city. Holston said she came up with the idea for a march and rally after a BSAY-hosted discussion about Trayvon Martin's death and racial profiling last Tuesday. BSAY worked with numerous other activist groups both from Yale and beyond, including several NAACP chapters, to plan the march. Holston also enlisted the support of local community organizers such as Rev. Scott Marks, who led marchers from the Q House in Dixwell to the New Haven Green, and Barbara Fair, who introduced each speaker at the ensuing rally on the steps of City Hall.

Holston said organizers chose to gather at the Q House, a former community center, rather than an on-campus location, to ensure that Saturday's event was "a New Haven march, not a Yale march."


In total, over 400 people attended the rally, Holston said, of which only a quarter were Yale students. A small group of Washington, D.C., natives, including T-shirt vendor Thaddeus Jackson, who had attended another march for Trayvon Martin earlier that morning in Hartford, said they have been "following the Trayvon Movement" across the country for the past few weeks.

Still, Yale's presence at the protest was prominent, and several student groups used public excitement about the event as an opportunity for advocacy.

The Yale College Democrats and MEChA de Yale, a student group that seeks to "promote Chicano empowerment" through education and political activism, teamed up to collect signatures for a petition demanding that the city "take an active stance against racial profiling." The petition called for an increase in police officer walking beats, "more curricula about racial profiling and community relations" in police training programs and ongoing discussion about relations between the community and the New Haven Police Department. By the end of the day, MEChA moderator Diana Enriquez '13 said, the petition had 264 signatures. Enriquez added that although calling attention to racial profiling with a march is important, "it should never end there."


Dems President Zak Newman '13 agreed, and cited the importance of local events like Saturday's protest in initiating conversations about race among people with different backgrounds.

Will McPherson '15, one of 40 "volunteer marshals" at the events, said he attended the march because, "as a white male who's not profiled," he felt the need to "support my friends who shouldn't have to live through this." In his speech at the rally, BSAY President Joshua Penny '13 addressed those who assume that college students are "bandwagoners, quick to repost a status on Facebook" but unwilling to take real action.

"Do not underestimate my generation," he told the diverse crowd gathered on the steps of City Hall. "Don't underestimate our strategy, and don't underestimate our tools," Penny continued, looking out over scores of painted signs.

Marks, who is also a co-founder of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a progressive social policy advocacy organization, commended BSAY organizers and Yalies who attended the protest.

"[The Yale administration] would like [students] to stay inside of the ivory towers, but they're in this community fighting," he said in his speech.

A Florida grand jury is scheduled to review the Trayvon Martin case on April 10.

Inclusive Activism

ENRIQUEZ: For more inclusive activism

I like to think I'm making a difference. Many of us activists do. We get up every morning, scan the headlines for topics that interest us, read articles that people send us and talk to people who have the same interests. Friends outside our interest groups also notice things for us, and for me, this means several copies of the same articles on immigration, Mexican cartels and Latin America when I get up each morning.

I am an activist because I am frustrated. There are things I love about my communities and things that I would change about them. But unfortunately, the language that each of our social justice groups use often prevent us from engaging with our communities at large.

Simply put, we are self-selecting, and we prefer to spend time with like-minded people. We find and surround ourselves with people who agree with us, who appreciate and understand our passions and interests. We don't need to worry about being defensive or explaining our entire background that way. It's more comfortable. For me, immigration is a really sensitive topic. I came here as an immigrant and I study here with the perspective of someone who doesn't fit well into either of my worlds.

It is easier for me to spend time with people from La Casa Cultural when I discuss immigration issues because they just get it. I don't have to dredge out painful details from my past and lay them out for the world to scrutinize. But it also means that it took me a lot longer to present my mission in a way that was broadly understandable and brought more people into the conversations I was having every day.

In the smaller circles of the Social Justice Network, a branch of Dwight Hall, activists at Yale learn how to talk to each other about these issues. I may read something in the morning, send it to the rest of my group and fume about it for the rest of the day while others from the same group agree with me. In this context, I don't have to defend myself. I can express myself through art and imagery of the violence in my home country, and I can use rhetoric that pulls Spanish and English phrases together, but I lose sight of my target audience in these ways. We lose sight of the people who do not hear these stories in their daily routines.

Activists, we need to go beyond talking to our groups if we want to get anywhere. We need to learn to communicate in a language that goes beyond our experiences and makes a point. The presentation of our missions isn't effective if we only see the same faces at every event, discussion and march. We need to bring in the rest of the community if we want to see change.

And we are lucky, because the resources are all around us. As many of us were told before we came to Yale, we are our own teachers. The best part of our time at Yale would be the community of students and the people that we would meet along the way.

So go! Leave your groups and have conversations that make you uncomfortable, defend your views and consider them from someone else's point of view. If you won't reach out and do it yourself, who will?

I have lost friends by compromising, but I've also made many others who teach me and challenge me in ways that I had never been before. In those moments, when I have realized that I'm having a conversation about immigration with someone who doesn't feel connected to the topic in any way, I learn to see myself and others like me through the eyes of someone else. And they leave the conversation knowing a little more about why I get up every morning.

I have learned the most from holding my convictions up for other people to scrutinize. I've learned to defend them and explain them in different ways. I've learned to compromise in ways that meant bringing others into the conversation without sacrificing the heart of what I want to do.

We can't hide behind our art and symbols and prose. For the change we seek to occur, understanding needs to be widespread, and we can't do that from within our own carefully guarded communities.

Diana Enriquez is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at .