Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Inspiration in Puerto Rico

Have you heard about the student strike in Puerto Rico? No? Well that's probably because the mainstream media is basically neglecting the truly inspirational story.

For generations, a University of Puerto Rico education was regarded as a sure way to escape poverty. Sixty percent of UPR's students, for example, have family incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

Since the university was largely funded through a 9.6% set-aside of all government tax revenues, it was able to maintain low tuition, about $2,000 annually, and even provide scholarships for standouts. It also enjoyed relative autonomy from the government.

But Fortuño's administration has promised Wall Street bondholders that it will make students pay a bigger share of the university's operating costs, downsize government and initiate more public-private partnerships.

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If privatization of the University occurs, it would virtually make attending the school a financial impossibility for the 60% of students living under the poverty line. The students of Puerto Rico have organized a strike that has successfully shut down the university system since April 21st. They have set up camp-like communities on the various campus grounds complete with tents and daily rallies. The tension between the police, the administration, the government, and the students and their allies has only increased within the past 50+ days of peaceful protest.

Students on the mainland could really learn a thing or two from the brave students of Puerto Rico. As a recent college graduate, and now future graduate student at NYU, I've witnessed the rise in complacency concerning debt. And by debt, I don't mean ten or even twenty thousand dollars. Students today are graduating with debts closer to sixty and seventy thousand dollars. Higher education has always been a luxury, especially for those living under the poverty line or in urban areas, but in its current state coupled with the recession, higher education is highly inaccessible for a large amount of middle and working class students. It is sad that it has taken this long for people to realize the cost of a college education is absurd. I mean it's nice that students are becoming more and more aware of the soaring costs of higher-ed in the continental United States, but it's as though this issue only matters when it begins to affect those who aren't considered socio-economic or racial minorities.

The more political pressure that is placed on the Puerto Rican government, the less likely privatization will occur. The students have been called "terrorists" by some media outlets, but to me they're heroes. Ultimately, the situation in Puerto Rico needs more coverage and the students need your support. Please spread the word about their courageous acts!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tracing my roots

So after having an interesting conversation with my mother about our family history, I decided to do a little research. Well before I start I'll tell you what I have always thought to be true: My mom: Italian(with one side of the family from Sicily and the other from Bari), German, Irish, Dutch, and Cherokee Native American. My dad: Jamaican. Making me: Jamaican, Italian, German, Irish, Dutch, and Cherokee Native American. I had previously heard this breakdown from my pop pop on my mom's side. Well according to my mom, we're not Cherokee or German or Irish or Dutch and I've either made up the memory of my grandpa telling me this or he was playing a trick on me when I was younger. Since I clearly remember always trying to figure out and ask questions about who/what I was because no one else at the dinner table was my skin color...I think my pop pop was playing tricks. So of course I have an ethnic identity crisis and begin asking questions all over again. A 22 year-old woman sent back to being a 7 year-old confused girl.

My mother, with a major assist from google, was able to shed a little light on my predicament. I have discovered that while my dad is fully Jamican...he is actually multi-ethnic. Because I'm not close with my father or my Jamaican family, I never really questioned that component of my identity. All I really knew was that my dad is the reason why I have brown skin instead of white like most of the family I grew up with. The one question I did always have was why my father's last name was Singh. I've always wondered how a Jamaican family ended up with a name originating from Hindu/Punjabi India.

Being the history major I am...I did some research. Jamaica is made up several different ethnic groups. While 90% of the population is black (African in origin resulting from the slave trade), there are also substantial White, Indian, Chinese, and Arawak populations on the island. After slavery was abolished on the British island, there were huge amounts of indentured servants brought over from the other British colonies and protectorates. Chinese and Indian workers would finish their mandatory years of servitude and then set up families and communities of their own. These lines and separated communities have continued over the decades resulting in only 7% of Jamaica being multi-ethnic. So apparently my father's mother was black but his father was Indian.

Why does any of this matter? Well as someone who has constantly felt lost in their ethnic identity and having very few mirrors in my family to identify with, I have always found some refuge in being knowledgeable about why I look the way I look. Why my skin is an ambiguous brown instead of a clearer shade of definitely this or that. Why people will forever ask me "what are you?" Why my hair is so unexpected. I know for a lot of people none of this stuff really affects them, especially those with a strong American, national, or monoethnic identity. I could easily give an answer like "human," but that usually leaves people very uncomfortable. Hell, it leaves me uncomfortable.

Recap: Mom: Italian (by way of Sicily and Bari)
Dad: Jamaican (by way of India and Africa)
Me: Italian, Afro-Jamaican, and Indian. (and content)

Sometimes I have to look in the mirror and ask my reflection the same question I get on a weekly basis: "what are you?" It's nice to have an answer.