Panel shares economic, social roots of racial tension

By Rebecca Sweeney

It wasn’t until she passed her exam in English as a second language and moved to her home school that Flor Zulema Hernandez became aware of racial issues between blacks and Hispanics.

“In the English as a second language program, you’re excluded from what’s going on around you,” Hernandez said during last night’s diversity dialogue, titled “Strong Divisions and Shared Dreams: Exploring the dynamics of relationships between Latinos/Hispanics and African-Americans/Blacks.” The discussion was sponsored by the Student Diversity Engagement and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Hernandez, a marketing senior, moved to the United States from Mexico when she was 9 years old and said there was some misunderstanding among her peers about where she was from, the foods she ate and the way she spoke.

“The reason I was accepted (by blacks) is because I learned to adapt to their culture,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez thinks minorities can do more for the country if they unite.

“There are many things we have to fight for, and if we unite and work toward a common goal, we would be so much more powerful,” she said.

Wesley Robinson, a Spanish and journalism junior, said he learned about racial tensions between Hispanics and blacks when he was no longer allowed to play with his Hispanic neighbors because they associated his skin color to gang-related activities.

“I thought it was interesting because we had been neighbors for several years and had established that character rapport,” Robinson said.

Audience members asked questions about whether Hispanics were taking blacks’ jobs, and Robinson said the competition over jobs aggravates the arguments between blacks and Hispanics.

“African-Americans are largely individualistic. We wouldn’t be able to boycott a bus system today because we do things as one family or one group,” Robinson said. “Hispanics get together and might ride with 15 people in one car just to make sure everyone gets to work.”

Hernandez said she doesn’t think people should have to fight for low-income jobs in a nation that values social mobility and opportunity.

Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, the director of Student Diversity Engagement, said last night’s diversity dialogue offered “a better and more in-depth understanding that there are challenges and issues we need to work on together.”

Rafiuddin said the diversity dialogues are organized to connect issues from the community and campus.

“We definitely need to continue to invest time and energy in bringing the two minority communities together in a safe space,” Rafiuddin said.