By Erin Kamel
The conversation panel “Making America White Again: Borders, Brown Bodies and the Politics of Hate,” invited guest speakers to address controversial social and political issues in the Education Building Room 115 on Thursday, Feb. 22.
Rebecca Martinez, a medical anthropologist and assistant professor at the University of Missouri, is currently working on a project about obstetric violence, which includes unnecessary Cesarean sections and the emotional abuse of women giving birth. Private hospitals in Argentina have an 80 percent C-section rate, according to Martinez, while the C-section rate is normally around 10 percent and is supposed to only be performed when medically necessary, according to the World Health Organization.
“In the United States, we think that our medical practices are more evolved, but, in fact, there are high rates of infant and maternal mortality among black and Latina populations in the U.S. that mimic other populations around the world that we tend to think of as third world,” Martinez said.
Romina Pacheco, a social justice educator at Fairfield University, spoke about how she incorporates students’ voices and realities into the curriculum.
Pacheco said that while students in the U.S. are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, statistics show that most public school teachers are Caucasian women.
“As most of my students are white women who are getting ready to be teachers, it became really important for me to read myself as a whole and hope that when those teachers go into the classroom and work with children that look like my kids, they are ready to do that,” Pacheco said.
Martinez touched on how students from diverse backgrounds are affected when teachers do not incorporate their distinct histories into their education.
Martinez asked the audience to raise their hands if they were taught about Japanese internment camps in school. Almost everyone in the audience raised their hands. Then she asked the audience to raise their hands if they were taught about the history of Mexican repatriation. Only a few audience members raised their hands.
Martinez explained that she didn’t learn about Mexican-American history until she was in college.
“What was going on that I didn’t have access to my own history in my schools, that I was made to feel embarrassed of who I was,” Martinez remembered asking herself.
On the topic of self-identity, Martinez shared how she felt like a fish out of water growing up in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood in southern California with a mother who only spoke Spanish. She recalled moments in her childhood when she wanted to dissociate from her culture.
“I was really embarrassed about my history,” Martinez said. “This is what we know of as internalized racism, where you kind of take in those messages about your people and your group and you internalize them.”
Martinez encouraged the audience to have conversations and think about what it means to be American as it relates to policies like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
According to Leigh-Ann Francis, historian and assistant professor of African American Studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the College, U.S. citizenship and immigration services have decided to no longer accept requests from individuals who have not been granted deferred action under DACA before.
“There are intricacies to our immigration laws that are as old as this country,” Martinez said. “Our immigration laws are steeped in racist discourse and a lot of people don’t know that.”
She explained how some Americans think that there is a never-ending influx of people coming into this country for reasons other than to reunite with their families and friends, citing how the term “family reunification” became “chain migration.”
Martinez also referenced the usage of powerful images like the 1990 Time Magazine cover titled, “America’s Changing Colors: What will the U.S. be like when whites are no longer the majority?” This headline was accompanied by an image of the American flag where the white lines were being taken over by black, brown and yellow lines.
“Why is the fact that America is changing in shade such a big deal?” Martinez said.
Martinez ended her presentation by urging the audience to take a critical lens to the idea that to be American is to be white.
Sponsors of the event included the Union Latina Student Organization, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Division of Student Affairs, Women in Learning and Leadership, Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, the department of African American Studies and the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority.