Tuesday, May 24, 2011

ALANA Speech [Extended Cut]

The following is an extended version of the speech I gave at the ALANA ceremony at UB. It was an honor to give the speech and I want to share it with all of you as I think you will all enjoy it.

            Good Morning SUNY Trustee Lewin, Council Member Hoeflich (hay-flick), Council Member O’Brien, Vice President Black, Pastor Pridgen, Dr. Moore, and all the Distinguished Platform Party Members. Good morning to our loved ones here today,
            College seems to have flown by. I don't know about you but it seems like yesterday I was roaming the halls of my high school. Looking a bit further back I remember 8th grade graduation. Why? Good question. I was one of the smart kids just like you all, smart enough to get into UB. After the diplomas, the smiles and the photos were taken it was time to leave. That's when it happened. My friend was Hispanic like me and her mother told me something that stuck with me. She said, "tu subiste la raza p'arriba!"
A. I didn't know Spanish all like that and B. it must be good because my parents smiled. I asked my mother what she said. “You brought the race up”. You brought the race up. I brought the race up? I suppose I did, a bit, but why is this anecdote, personal memory important to all of us? Because today ustedes subieron la raza p'arriba también. Yes we all brought the race. I'm not just talking to my Latino/Hispanic friends. I'm talking to all of us here today. We worked our butts off through undergrad, and now we are beacons of hope for our communities. Edward James Olmos said, “Education is the vaccine for violence.” As we return to our communities or venture on to new ones we have the chance to help share this ‘vaccine’ with others. 

 ALANA is the African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American Celebration of Achievement [it has been expanded to include others not explicitly mentioned by these broad categories including Allies and those who understand the history and experience of POC and work for social justice]. As people of color we have historically been underrepresented in higher ed and in graduate study. We have been slaves, victims of genocide, interned in camps and all of this in America. Paula Gunn Allen said, "Indians think it is important to remember, while Americans believe it is important to forget." We cannot forget where we come from. We come from Freedom Riders, civil rights activists, leaders of social movements; people who struggled to escape and improve horrible conditions, who have struggled to support their communities. We come from people who knew their power and were not afraid to use it. Our ancestors, grandparents, and parents have worked for us to be able to reach this point. Our families knew so well what Malcolm X so brilliantly said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Our families did this for us.
Whether a first generation student, from a poor background, a person of color, an international student, we are looked down on and knocked down. We are not expected to succeed.  Whether it can be seen on your face, on your skin or heard when you open your mouth you come from strong stock. We took out loans; we worked while attending school, and we have struggled to support our families in various ways while working through our workloads. Look at us though. We did it. We have made it through college.  It can't stop here though.
We must continue. Continue to help our people. Tupac said, “We talk a lot about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., but it's time to be like them, as strong as them. They were mortal men like us and everyone of us can be like them. Let's be like them by doing, whatever it is we do after graduation, by doing it amazingly.
We can all make changes to this world for OUR people. If I don't stand for African Americans, Afro-Latinos, Blacks, Africans how can I say I did my best? If I don't fight for Latinos and Hispanics from Latin America or the United States what have I done? If I don't stand for Cambodians, Malasians, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese people who can I say I am? If I don’t work to create better conditions for indigenous peoples, Native Americans, for the Haudenosaunee what am I doing?
We do not all have the same experiences, we do not face discrimination the same way, our parents/guardians raised us differently but here we are all together. Andrew Lam said, "As a Vietnamese refugee who became an American writer, I can tell you that you matter, that your sadness matters, the story of how you survived and triumphed matters. For every story that belongs to you, in time, belongs to America."
If you are proud of who you are and where you come from, your experiences, your loved ones here or in the union, stand and let them feel it. Let the world hear that we made it and helped others along the way. We have succeeded.[insert audience cheers]
My thank yous could fill an entire speech by itself as I’m sure yours could so I’ll be brief. I want to thank my parents and family like I know we all do. Thank you so much. I could not have done it without you.  I did it! We did it!! You helped guide me, supported me and loved me! Thank you so much. We have many friends here today that should be thanked as well. We have friends that we must thank who came to UB but did not finish for many reasons, we thank you for everything you did to help us along the way and wish you were here. We have friend from clubs like LASA and LGBTA, thank you! We have staff from various campus offices including the Intercultural and Diversity Center, the Acker office, the McNair Scholars, and the innumerable other offices that have helped us, faculty from various departments who have taught us more than the subject of the courses they taught. We have friends and family who have not made it here today but rest assured they are proud of us and are proud of our accomplishments. We also have friends and family who have passed on. We lost friends like Nick Orrange. For me one of the toughest things I’ve been through was losing my grandmother, Rosa Vargas and more recently losing my abuela Olga Estremera. I don’t want to get too spiritual but I KNOW our loved ones live on in us and I know they are here with us. They are here celebrating with us. We carry them within us like we will carry our knowledge and experience earned here.
We have reached the closing of a chapter in our lives. I feel honored to have been your speaker today and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.  "Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead,” President Obama said that and I know there are better days ahead for all of us because we’ll work to make them that way because it won’t be easy. A degree may not be a guarantee but I know we will all work towards our goals relentlessly. "If you silence yourself, if you try to be good, if you try to be polite, or toe a party line, you end up paying for that in the long run. You pay for it . . . with your homeland, or with your soul, or with your artistic vision." Diana Abu-Jaber said that and so I want you to tell your story, sing your song, fight your fight and love. Love who you are, your skin, your eyes, your hair, your accent, your language, love where you come from, your history, nuestra herencia and most importantly today love your future and head towards it with eyes wide open with everything you know. I love you all, congratulations. 

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