Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Deepest Frustration- A Blog Post by Peer Leader Jesús Guzmán

Our Deepest Frustration

It was years ago that I remember reading everything Malcolm X from his childhood, to his conversion to Islam, to his visit to Mecca, and his legacy now. In particular, there stood one saying as stall as the man himself. It read, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” Those are powerful words. Those are words that reflect the self-deprecation and downtrodden attitude of young men and woman of color in this country. However, it applies to them in a slightly altered way, because as Malcolm’s Man seems to be aware of what he could potentially stand for, and instead chooses not to. These young men and woman I speak of, they haven’t yet been given an opportunity to stand for anything, in fact, they haven’t yet been taught how to stand at all. They have yet to be educated on what they could be, should be, can be, will be one day. We must educate our coming generation of young men and woman of who they can be by including in our classrooms examples of who they can become.

In our classrooms of American History we see only old white men. In our classrooms of Literature we read only old white men. In our classrooms of Science we learn only about the discoveries made by old white men. In our classrooms of Philosophy we are only exposed to old white men. There’s a pattern. And for those of the Caucasian persuasion, that’s perfectly fine and dandy. But for those of us who are not, when we are sitting in those classrooms, we look up and see who we are not, who we can’t be, who we can never be, and who we don’t want to be. I remember sitting in my AP English class senior year in High School reading various authors and works of literary merit, novels which I still hold dear to my heart today such as Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Heller’s Catch-22. One afternoon after class I approached my instructor and asked why none of the authors we were reading for class were not from Latin America. He promptly answered, “This is an English class, not a Spanish class.” That’s true. But what I failed to understand is why we were reading Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky then. We certainly were not reading it in the original Russian, so I was obviously not asking him to read Carlos Fuentes in the original Spanish. This point seemed to elude him entirely, as I’m sure many other things seemed to elude him entirely, as well. I remember to this day, that what I was asking was not a Spanish course in Latin American Literature, though that would be pretty sweet, but instead an incorporation of actual “WORLD” Literature, as the class falsely advertised. I wanted to read Octavio Paz. I wanted to know Gabriel Garcia Marquez and hang out with Jorge Luis Borges and kick back with Mario Vargas Llosa and have a drink with Julio Cortazar and wax poetic with Sandra Cisneros and enjoy the cool comfort of the afternoon breeze talking indigenismo with Jose Vasconcelos. But what I wanted the most was to see an example of what I could one day become. I wanted to see hope.

It may sound absurd to hear that the dropout rate of young Latino students in American schools could change somehow by incorporating history and literature on their own culture, but I stand here firm in my conviction that the case is as I state it. Sitting in History I can recount thinking how Benjamin Franklin was a harlot, Jefferson a hypocrite, Sam Adams an alcoholic, and how I was tired of my history teaching telling me to write about Cesar Chavez. Enough already, I get it, he was awesome, but I can’t write a report on him every year! So, I am frustrated. I am frustrated because others are not frustrated. I am frustrated because others are not angry. I am frustrated because others are not furious. I frustrated because this is cultural genocide and so few seem to notice and much less care. Young men and woman of color are growing up and so few heroes are held up to idolize as examples of what each of us can one day be. Systematically we hold up white idols and ignore all others. It causes at least two effects I can account for: One, by upholding white Americans as the primary source of idolatry we are falsely affirming that white is right. Two, by downplaying great minds of Latin America, and elsewhere, for example, we are confirming the gnawing suspicion of each and every young man and woman that as an ethnicity in America you are less because you are not white, you cultural heritage is excluded in the classroom much like you are in the rest of American society. Self-esteem here becomes a huge issue. It becomes the major hurdle to acknowledging the little known truth that so many young Latinos are not privy to, yet ought to know. I simply ask that we include more heroes of various cultures to light the way for unbound potential of today’s youth. Fortunately for me, I had a great junior year English teacher who said why say it yourself when someone else has already said it for you. So, in homage of her enormous impact on my life and many others, I’m sure, I will allow the great author Marianne Williamson to close for me:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

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