Cristal Cervantes, an Austin Club Leader and Advertising/ PR major at the University of Texas at Austin, has contributed this piece to the College Writing Series blog. Please post your comments below for discussion.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if one day a Latin@ did something to harm this nation and as a result YOU were seen as a threat or an enemy to this country? I attended an educational workshop titled “SLB & KPhiG: Being South Asian in a Post 9/11 America” last Wednesday where I learned of the insults and discriminating acts South Asians and Middle Easterners have experienced since 9/11. I was so moved by the things I heard and saw I felt it was important for me to share it with others and that’s what I am doing, sharing it with you.
During the first half of the event we watched a documentary that interviewed four male college students who are a part of the fraternity (a men's student organization formed chiefly for social purposes having secret rites and a name consisting of Greek letters) that hosted the event. Each interviewee was from a different place of origin, but they all fell under the umbrella terms ‘South Asian’ or ‘Middle Eastern’. Pablo Saba is Honduran/Palestinian. He said everyone who knew him always saw him as Hispanic, but after the attacks “all of a sudden [he was] Pablo the Palestinian.” Sherief Elabbady is Egyptian and was constantly called a “terrorist [and] Osama,” even by his close friends. He admits they did it in a jokingly manner, but it still affected him. Pablo heard comments like “you’re a suicide bombers cousin” when he would wear a t-shirt with a Palestinian flag. Abdul Jabbar, a Venezuelan/Palestinian mentioned his parents not wanting him to speak Arabic, because they don’t want him to speak the language in airports.
Isn’t it amazing how somebody’s life can change from one day to another?
I wanted to highlight some of the things these gentlemen have experienced because many of the remarks they heard were not from strangers, but their friends. Sometimes we fall into the trap of using humor to express how we feel towards individuals, not taking into account their emotions and how the joke might be offensive. Additionally, many of the student organizations participated in racist remarks indirectly and they started to keep a distance from these students. Although, these actions were subtle, they had a profound impact on the guys.
Would you stand up against student organizations and support South Asians and Middle Eastern students facing discrimination?
Later, the workshop proceeded by playing clips from the documentary “Divided We Fall.” Although these clips were small I learned about a story the media failed to cover the weeks that followed the 9/11 attacks. The stories of South Asians and Middle Easterners who all of sudden had to prove they were just as American as anyone of us. After watching one of the clips I felt cheated and lied to because I heard of a story that I never saw make the headlines. When the guest speaker asked the audience how many of us had heard the story only a few hands when up and thats when I knew I wasn't alone. It was the story of a Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh (a follower of Sikhism) man who was killed outside of his gasoline stations while he tried to display U.S. flags outside to show his American pride. This story was heart wrenching, more because weeks after his death his brother was also murdered. This is a fascinating story I encourage you to read about, therefore I have a link below to start you off. Read about Sodhi's death here: http://www.saldef.org/issues/balbir-singh-sodhi/
What should you take from this post?
Don’t settle---for what others and the media have to say about an person/place/issue. Go out and create your own opinions by exploring new cultures, interviewing people, looking through surveys and reading articles written by scholars. Never assume---always learn the facts before you become a victim of ignorance.
Watch the full student interviews here: http://youtu.be/DrpWu6QvZ-w
Learn more about “Divided We Fall,” take action, and support by clicking on the link.
Cristal- Student, UT Austin
Latinitas Club Leader - Martin M.S./Hart E.S.