We said good-bye to Jason’s cousin who had stopped by to visit. As the door closed, I said, “I can’t in good conscious agree with the criticisms you both were making about Harvard’s black student commencement.” Jason read a headline about Harvard convening its first commencement just for black graduate students and that tipped off a litany of criticisms by him and his cousin. The whole thing felt misunderstood even though I had not read the article. “What if it’s to celebrate the graduation of those students who historically had been discriminated against? What if this is a way to make amends and lift those students?” I asked. “That adds to the divisiveness of race issues, it makes things worse.” he retorted. I felt my walls of defense around me begin to rise, it felt like an attack on programs created to promote opportunity for students from underprivileged backgrounds. Affirmative action comes to mind, my entry to University of Florida comes to mind. I snapped back “I got in to UF because of a minority recruitment and retention program and it gave me special tutoring just for the minority students. Is that wrong? I needed that tutoring. I am not going to apologize for receiving that! I am just as deserving of an opportunity as anyone else and I am living proof that the program works. My life is a testament to that!”
This isn’t the first time Jason and I have discussed or argued about issues surrounding race and social justice. We could not have been raised in more different circumstances. He is your quintessential farm-raised, country boy from a small town in middle America. I am from the transient bustling melting pot that is South Florida and my roots are firmly anchored in the mountains of Panama and the mountains of Puerto Rico where my mother and father are from, respectively. I was born in Panama but raised in the United States. He is white non-Hispanic/Latino and I am white Hispanic/Latino. Our life narratives reflect, among other things, what people see and what society values.