Students Seek Cultural Identity

By Monique Frausto

Race plays a considerable role in everyday life. People have
expectations based on a person’s race and then are stumped when
that person doesn’t fulfill those stereotypes.

This leads to the issue of being able to identify with a certain
race, which can be conflicting especially when trying to identify
with two or more races.

On Thursday, at the University Park from 1-3 p.m., a panel of
students, faculty, staff and community members will speak about
their multiple identities as individuals of a mixed race, multiple
heritages and cultures.

The event titled “What race are you?” was created by students
Corey Gaither and Yolanda Diaz. It is also co-sponsored by Black
History Month, Associated Students Inc., African American Student
Center, and the Office of Student Life & Cultural Centers.

Gaither, a fourth-year business student and the secretary of the
Black History Month committee, interviewed Diaz while he was
working on a different event concerning her ethnicity.

Diaz, a third-year chemistry student, suggested that Gaither
should do something based on mixed race issues. Since her mother is
German/English and her father is Nicaraguan, she thought it would
be a good idea.

“I really want people to get an understanding of being mixed,”
said Diaz.

She also confessed to not identifying to either of her
ethnicities. She reveals that a lot of people confuse her for being
Filipino and has made a lot of Asian friends due to this
misconception. Therefore she identifies more with the Asian
culture.

Gaither and Diaz enlisted the help of Jih-Fei Cheng, the
coordinator of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Center.

Since April is Asia and the Pacific Islands Heritage Month,
Cheng thought that this topic would be appropriate because of this
year’s theme – “Intersections and (Re-) Presentations.”

“The theme fit this topic ‘What race are you?’ perfectly because
‘Intersections and (Re-) Presentations’ is meant to look at how our
community, the Asian and Pacific Islanders community, intersects
with other communities,” said Cheng.

The event will bring to light the experiences that the panelists
have had throughout their lives. This discussion will be moderated
by Dr. Patricia De Freitas, chair of the ethnic and women’s studies
department.

“The reason we chose this format was because we wanted to get a
cross section of different viewpoints,” said Cheng. “Because people
can be of mixed ancestry in so many different ways we didn’t just
want to have one person represent all of the mixed race
community.”

Cheng explains that this is not going to be a yes or no type of
discussion. It is to bring a more complex understanding of their
experiences. The panel will not only share their personal
background and racial identities, but they will also be asked
various questions such as, “Why does someone give credit to one
race over another?”

“Race really is a social construct,” said Cheng. “There is
nothing true about race, but they are important identities
nonetheless because they are part of the way, as minorities in this
country, we can lay claim to our experience.”

The positive and negative perceptions of mixed races will both
be covered. But Cheng explains that the goal of this event is to
give them their own voice instead of having identities imposed on
them.

“The goal is to empower people of mixed race ancestry,” said
Cheng.

Actress Rosario Dawson is used as an example on the flyers that
are posted around campus. She is of Puerto Rican, Black, Cuban,
Irish and Native American descent. The students involved in the
event wanted to use a well-known person in the mainstream media who
is often misrepresented and confront the question of her race.

“What race did you assume this person was? So, if you assume
that one race, why did you assume that? If they are of mixed race,
how do you now think of them?” said Cheng, posing thought-provoking
questions.

Cheng hopes this event will encourage people to think more
critically about race and not simply focus on how someone looks.
Instead of asking, “What are you?” Cheng makes a point to say that
a question like this can dehumanize someone or make him or her feel
objectified.

One of Cheng’s concerns is that students who are of mixed race
on campus may feel isolated when it comes to certain social groups.
He wonders if they might have to ignore one of their cultures to
fit into another group.

“I want people to think about this idea of what race they are,”
said Cheng. “I want people to think about their own personal
identities.”

Hannah Munoz, a third-year journalism student, is bi-racial. Her
mother is Japanese and her father is Mexican. She is comfortable
with and proud of her heritage. She feels that this event is a
positive opportunity for those to speak out about their concerns or
experiences with discrimination or racism.

“As a child, my father always told me to be proud of being a
mixed race.” said Munoz. “He always told me I was beautiful.”

Cheng anticipates that events like this will be able to open
students to issues that the public may often marginalize.

Gaither admits to making a racial assumption about someone and
finding out that he was wrong. That is one of the main reasons for
his involvement in this event.

“I hope people will walk away knowing that just because someone
appears to be of a certain race doesn’t necessarily mean that they
don’t have a diverse background,” said Gaither. “You can’t judge a
book by its cover.”

Monique Frausto can be reached by e-mail at arts@thepolypost.com
or by phone at (909) 869-3744.

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