Senior Spotlight: Intelligent and Intense Activist

By Stefan Deeran

How has growing up in Los Angeles shaped your identity?
It was really easy to be who I was. People would ask me where I was from and I would always say ‘Guatemala.’ That was one thing about growing up in L.A., people never assumed where I was from. It wasn’t until late high school that young people started realizing there is this thing called race that’s made up. People started making me feel like I wasn’t who I was. Stereotypes of what it meant to be Latina.
Was there also pressure to conform to White Americana?
I have been bombarded by images from the media. Especially when it comes to standards of language and social behavior and beauty. You get spoon-fed, this is what it is, and its all coming from this white-dominated paradigm, one which I don’t necessarily subscribe to.

What’s the one thing in life for which you’re most grateful?
My mother. Because she got me to where I am at. She’s the best woman I’ve ever met in my entire life. She raised four kids on her own. She brought her whole family to a whole other country. Not just her immediate family but her extended family. She is kind of that image of the hard- working immigrant that is grateful for what she has now but never forgets the homeland.

You considered transferring from Mac?
I think for me one of the challenges was coming from a city as diverse as Los Angeles and having gone to an L.A. public school. It put in me in a situation where I came to Macalester; it was cultural shock. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I am one of the very few Latinas on this campus. I’ve never been in this situation before for an extended period of time. I think that academically it was kind of hard to find myself being in the program that I wanted [which] wasn’t really there [[email protected] Studies] …Also the comments people were making…
There were social situations in which you felt marginalized?
In the cafeteria, being the only person of color at the table, the topic of affirmative action came up. Someone said that the only reason I was at Macalester was because Macalester was in desperate need of students of color.
You feel that people are marginalized for religious reasons at Macalester?
I pray before I eat sometimes and I do in the cafeteria. And some people look at me at and they’re like ‘That’s so cute.’ And it’s like ‘What? Did you just tell me my religion is cute? Is that a compliment? What is that?’ And I think that people are in such shock that people do that in public and at Macalester. We have a really good chapel that works very hard and they have people from different faiths so I think that needs to be part of multiculturalism as well.

Why should Joe Bemidji care about Joi Lewis, Dean of Multicultural Life leaving?
Everyone, no matter who you are, there are things about you that sometimes other people might not understand or might not know how to approach. But when they do you want them to do so in a way that’s respectful and meaningful. I think people can be curious but you can be curious and say things in a way that might be harmful and that’s what we want to try and avoid. We want to be able to create effective citizens and we want to be able to create community. But in order to create community we need to be able to dialogue across differences and that’s something the Dean of Multicultural Life does.

What’s your proudest accomplishment at Mac?
When students of color came to the Multicultural Sampler as PFs, I tried my best to be really honest and transparent of what the situation was. I would say the bad along with the good. That honesty and transparency still managed to get people here. And these are the people that are really active.

What are the main problems facing multiculturalism at Mac?
Lack of institutional support and lack of staffing. The pillar of Multiculturalism can’t fall on the shoulders of very few people. I think that Macalester isn’t really great at giving us those tools to be able to communicate cross culturally which is why I am glad they changed the Domestic Diversity requirement to analyzing situations of power and privilege.

Let’s discuss the Senior Class Gift.

The school decided to get rid of need-blind. That was its decision. I didn’t approve. So now they’re trying to tell me ‘Your Class Gift will be a Scholarship Fund. It’s one of the most ambitious gifts.’ I am glad. I’m not doing it. Ill give to the college in other ways. When I give money back to the college, it will be meant for specific things. I am still debating whether to give to the Class Gift. I have had people attack me ‘Why are you not giving back?’ And it’s ultimately my decision and I would really appreciate if people would respect and honor that.
You were the president of your high school. Any political ambitions?
Yeah, I think that’s as far as it’s gonna go. When I was in high school I ran because people told me to run. For me, I hate it when people decide to run to make themselves feel better. I really think that’s part of the problem with our democracy in the US. It’s that notion that leaders aren’t born, they’re made. It takes time. It is about a community and we tend to do things collectively, being democratic, being transparent. You are part of a bigger community. I am a behind-the-scenes, grassroots type of person. But my mother always says ‘You can’t predict your future.’ If there comes a time when the community and our elders say you need to consider [running], then at that point I would.

How would you respond to arguments that Bush’s administration cannot be racist because of Condi Rice?
It’s one charity case. Please. You’re a kid, there’s three boys, one girl. All the boys play in the treehouse. The girl wants to play in the tree house but she is not a boy so she gets excluded. One day they let her in. Does that make her a boy? No. But does that mean that they are going to let her play in the tree house whenever she wants and have an equal say? No. Because they are still the same boys. They’re still in power, they haven’t changed anything. She is just there for show so the parents can say, ‘Oh look the kids are playing.’ It’s just symbolic.
She does have concrete power as Secretary of State.

What is she really doing for black people? I’m glad that it’s a women of color but I think that it’s really difficult because you’re compromising all women of color when you’re put into this position of power with a system that’s still inherently racist.
Say you’re that girl in the treehouse metaphor. What do you do?
Tear down the tree and the roots. Not just the house—the tree and the roots. Tear it all down!