Thursday, February 21, 2013

Becoming Latina/o

The acceptance of my ethnic heritage is a personal triumph that is paradoxically linked to the racial marginalization MEChA counteracts on a regular basis. Growing up, I deliberately chose not to identify as Latino, fearing negative associations and wanting the social ease I linked with being “white”. Having a fair complexion, in the context of majoritarian skin-based racial constructions, gave me the freedom to project my preferred racial identity. The customs of my people were archaic remnants of a culture rendered inadequate by those around me. When people assumed I was white, I never corrected them.
            Coming to Yale radically altered my stagnant perceptions of race and ethnicity. I came to understand the multiple ways in which people expressed their Latina/o identity beyond my internalized white-brown-black paradigm. My classes taught me the dynamics of skin-based privilege and the Latinas/os I met gave me the courage to define my own identity and not allow inaccurate and pervasive racial categories to dictate my actions.
            Another aspect of coming to New Haven that propelled me to dismantle my previous conceptions of Latinidad came from the scarcity of students and professors who identified as Hispanic, and on a larger scale, the vast inequalities prevalent in the local community. Being at Yale provided me with ample opportunity to engage in acts that worked to dispel racial adversity. I began to see my Latina/o identity as not only something to be proud of, but also as a constant reminder of why the fight against oppression needs to continue.
            I have come to see academia as my place in ameliorating the racial inequalities that exist in society. By becoming a professor, I hope to utilize my formative experiences with race and ethnicity in ways that give agency to communities that continue to receive harsh regulation. The opportunity to study and conduct research on subjects like the social phenomena that engendered my sense of Latinidad would be incredible. As daunting as the task may be, I aspire to add my voice to the collective knowledge of esteemed trailblazers and look for new ways to interpret racial identity.  
-Christofer Rodelo

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To Astronaut, or not to Astronaut?

Growing up I wanted to be a plethora of things. I wanted to become a news anchor and be just like Diane Sawyer or Robin Roberts… until I learned that meant traveling to war torn areas or disaster zones. Being a true Californian, I thought I would want to be come a seismologist… but then I decided I would much rather not spend my time thinking about our impending doom and the nightmare of “The Big One”. I thought maybe an astronaut would suit me well… until I learned that there was no oxygen in space.

            I have always been fascinated by science and arithmetic, I was the kid who would toss dolls aside and instead spend my time on “crystal growing kits” and watching ZOOM on PBS. Even now, my friends know my as the one who has watched every NOVA and BBC Horizon documentary and shares the juicy details of what I learned in genetics with them (whether they want to hear about mutated flies with eyes all over their bodies or not). It wasn’t until 5th grade that I started to honestly consider a career in the medical field. Most of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time going in and out of hospitals because many of my family members suffer from various illnesses. I’ve always looked up to those in the medical field with awe; they were magical beings dedicated to trying to help and cure those around them! I could think of no other career that I would enjoy more.

            In 2006 I unfortunately lost an uncle to brain cancer, but I never forgot the courage and strength which with he kept fighting. He had a dream of opening a clinic in my family’s town in Mexico for all those who did not have the financial means to afford medication and treatments. Although he is no longer with us, I remember his love of life, pure heart, and his dream; it is he who inspired me to follow a career as a neurosurgical oncologist. When it came time to apply to colleges, I proudly wrote neurosurgical oncologist on all my applications. It seemed so easy then! “In a little over a decade, I will be a surgeon,” I thought, “I’ll just take the classes I need to take and that’s all, it’ll be easy!”

….And then I got to college. It suddenly wasn’t as easy as it once seemed, the amount of work and readings were slowly starting to get to me. For a bit I even wondered if this path was for me. My grades weren’t as good as in high school and the material didn’t come to me as easily either. “What are you doing Cynthia??” I would tell myself as I struggled over my p-sets.

Then I started volunteering as a Spanish interpreter at Haven Free Clinic, a clinic that offers free consultations and low-cost medications to a predominantly working-class Latino community on Saturday mornings. During the appointments many would begin to tell me a bit of their life stories, the struggles they had to endure to get to the United States to experience El Sueño Americano. However, once they arrived here, the US wasn’t as wonderful as they had imagined. They were working dangerous, minimum wage jobs while trying to support a family, and their bodies had to suffer the consequences. At the clinic, I was able to see first hand, the consequences of a difficult and often unjust country.

            As they leave the consultation room, I’ve had a few people give me hugs and tell me not give up on my dream because I was an inspiration for their children. It seemed kind of weird that 17 year old me could be an inspiration for anyone because I’ve done nothing, and what I have done has been with the help and support of dozens of others. The family, friends, teachers, counselors and many more who have had their own struggles to overcome in this country.

            I think part of the reason why I love working at the clinic so much is because no matter how hard my week has been, how bad my quiz grades were, or how little sleep I’ve had, I know that in the long run all of my efforts will pay off and I will finally be able to give back to all those who have made it possible for me to be where I am today. So regardless of how difficult college “seems” at times, I know I’ll get there because no matter how bad things are, there are others who have it much, much worse.

            I am proud to say that I am the product of several generations of hardworking people who with blood, sweat, and tears have been able to build a better life for themselves. My family’s efforts are finally paying off, and I hope that one day, I will be able to help cure and treat those who have not been so lucky by lightening the load of their worries so that one day their kids can have the luxury of choosing whether they want to be an astronaut, or seismologist, or news anchor.   

Now, back to studying! :)

Con MEChA amor,
Cynthia Campos

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Support of Josemaria Islas: A Letter to the Public Advocate for ICE

Andrew Lorenzen-Strait
Office of the Public Advocate
Enforcement and Removal Operations
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th St. SW, Suite 5255
Washington, D.C. 20024

February 11, 2013

RE: Mr. Josemaria Islas, A#205-497-397

Dear Andrew Lorenzen-Strait:

On behalf of MEChA de Yale, I urge you to review and close the deportation case of Mr. Islas before his removal hearing on February 21, 2013. He is a valued member of the New Haven, Connecticut community, and his detention has caused widespread outcry in our state.

MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantíl Chicano de Aztlán (Chicano Student Movement) is a social justice organization focused primarily on issues affecting Hispanic communities both locally and nationally. Nationally, there are upwards of 300 MEChA chapters, from the East Coast to Texas to California and Colorado. In the Yale University chapter alone we have more than 40 members, and our mailing list reaches over 150 Yale undergraduates, professors, and administrators each week. Here in New Haven, MEChA de Yale has focused on racial profiling, education reform, wage theft and immigration reform, by participating in meetings at Mayor DeStefano’s office, organizing large rallies, writing for the Yale Daily News and regularly hosting panels with other Yale groups such as the Yale College Democrats and the Black Student Alliance at Yale to raise campus awareness.

We have met Mr. Islas (he is also scheduled to speak at a panel on immigration reform being held at Yale in two weeks) and we are shocked and angered that he is still in the deportation process. Mr. Islas is innocent of committing any crime, and he is the last person we should be spending taxpayer’s dollars on to deport. This is why we will all be out in full force at his hearing next Thursday in Hartford to support him and his family in this difficult, frightening and upsetting time.

Mr. Islas exemplifies the hard-working immigrant who has put down roots in our community. He has lived with his family in New Haven for eight years. He has worked steadily for the last four years at a factory, while financially supporting his sister, nephews and niece, with whom he lives.

We are deeply troubled that Mr. Islas is in deportation proceedings because he was racially profiled, arrested and jailed for a crime that he did not commit. The stated goal of Secure Communities is to deport criminals, not innocent people wrongly accused like Mr. Islas. He and his family have suffered enough.

Furthermore, Mr. Islas’s removal would make it clear that Connecticut immigrants cannot feel safe interacting with the police. We want the public to feel safe contacting police, especially to report crimes. His removal would be disastrous for this state, not to mention for his family and his large community of supporters.

President Obama is now advocating for a path to citizenship for the millions of people just like Mr. Islas who may have entered or stayed in the United States without permission but otherwise have contributed to society and abided by the law. We believe that Mr. Islas’s significant contributions to our community, his ties to family in Connecticut, and his non-existent criminal record outweigh any civil immigration infractions he may have committed.

We urge you again to grant Prosecutorial Discretion in Mr. Islas’s case.


Katherine Aragón, President, MEChA de Yale

(General letter template from Unidad Latina en Acción)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What Does Activism Mean to Me?

A short 5’2’’ girl towed along a pink, two-inch binder that was bursting with worksheets that detailed the chemical pathways of glycolysis, the Kreb’s cycle, and the Calvin cycle. Everyday after class, she spent hours memorizing the enzymes that would catalyze these reactions and memorized the different functions of ribosomes, the endoplasmic reticulum, and microtubules. These long hours of grueling work earned her a purple T-shirt with the words, “I want your myosin head to power stroke my actin filament” emblazoned on the back.

A long picket line formed outside the Congress Hotel in downtown Chicago. There were always people stationed outside the hotel, but this particular day was especially important because it marked the nine-year anniversary of the day when hotel workers began their strike. Organizations from across the city gathered on this one strip of Michigan Avenue to protest the hotel’s poor labor practices. With such a long picket line, it was hard to keep the entire group shouting along to the slogans and small pockets of silence inevitably formed. One girl found this unacceptable and began leading the chants.
She didn’t need a bullhorn. She was the bullhorn.

Can you guess which girl I am?


I began my studies at Yale with the heart of a science nerd set on being a Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology major following a pre-med track. Then I got more involved with MEChA and my perspective dramatically changed. I had always been very passionate about issues revolving around human rights, immigrant rights, and women’s rights, but I had never formed a part of an organization that actively tried to change these issues. I was very shy in high school and not very outspoken. I shied away from situations that put me in the spotlight because I was afraid of doing or saying something that was wrong. However, that began to change when I met the Mechistas here at Yale. I saw that same passion I possessed in the members of the organization. The difference was that they voiced their passion. There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t hear Diana speak about the grave consequences of the drug wars in Mexico or Alejandro rant about the system of oppressions that are built into our society. I slowly began losing my fear and became more actively involved in projects. I helped put together a panel, I canvassed during this past election, and now I am attempting to put on a large-scale project that will bring to light the issue of wage theft in New Haven.

Activism helped me find the voice that I had been trying to find for a very long time. I thought I had found it in the research programs I had participated in during high school. However, I realized that wasn’t it at all. My internship this past summer at a worker’s rights organization showed me what it was that I had loved about those experiences. I loved talking to people, learning from people. While doing clinical research at the University of Chicago, my favorite part of the day was talking to patients. The highlight of that summer was listening to Mr. Biggs’ story of surviving cancer not learning to use STATA statistical software. My favorite part of this summer was being able to talk to workers, community leaders, and faith leaders. All of these conversations and joint collaborations would lead to a change that actually mattered. I’ve always been a listener and these experiences gave me the opportunity to listen to the community’s real needs. Now it is time to act. What good is it if I can listen but do nothing to enact change?

I will continue listening to empower not only myself but also those others around me. My mission is to effectively foster change. Together we will build a future where systems of oppression are not the norm and equality is expected.

As us Mechistas love to say,

La lucha sigue

-Evelyn Núñez