On the evening of Tuesday, September 18th, cadets and faculty gathered in Bond Hall Room 165 along with honored guests for a Hispanic Heritage Month panel discussion. The topic was “Latinos in America: Finding the Balance Between Identity and Integration.” Moderated by Chaplain Joe Molina, the panel included Father Gildardo Garcia – the Catholic Chaplain at Charleston Air Force base – as well as Attorney Dana Fields (Field Law Office) and Dr. Angela Cozart (College of Charleston).
Each of the panelists were given an opportunity to speak on their personal experiences as Latinos in America and about their observations in their professional fields.
“We have to face the issue of immigration with compassion” -Father Gildardo Garcia
Father Garcia gave an insightful summation of Milton Bennett’s 6 stages of intercultural sensitivity, and how he had witnessed their effects in parishes with mixed communities around America:
Denial: The parish considered strangers as somebody else’s responsibility due to cultural differences.
Defense: The parish says things like, “We have no more room in this Parish for these people”, “Can we trust them?”, “They are taking over!”, and “They are not like us.”
Minimizing: Parish says that they can come and participate, but if they are in America, they should speak English. Assimilation is demanded which means leaving culture, language, and expectations at the door.
Acceptance: Parish acknowledges that they are here to stay. The parish begins treating them politely, and we see the use of words like “us” and “them”.
Adaptations: Pastors and staff gain ability to communicate in two languages.
Integration: Parish speaks both languages, and people accept each other and include each other in their decision making processes.
He finished the discussion with a powerful statement, noting “I’m talking about what I know, and what I’ve seen… I think people who come to a parish should feel welcomed, included, and they should ultimately feel ownership.”
Attorney Dana Fields, from the Fields Law Office, spoke about the legal issues that immigrants often face in the US.
“A lot of people don’t distinguish between illegal and legal immigrants, especially if you’re brown or black. That’s how we’re represented in the media and by the government.” -Dana Fields
Fields explained that the government systems are not easy to navigate or understand for many immigrants. Some people do not realize that the DACA program is simply deferred action, and not free education for immigrants. People are able to work and get drivers licenses, but school is really expensive, especially when they are made to pay out-of-state tuition.
In her experience as an attorney, Fields has found that immigrants don’t always understand the nuances of American law. She told story about a client who didn’t equate a DUI with drinking and driving, as he thought that it meant to literally drink while driving. Domestic Violence is another crime that very quickly leads to deportation, and it’s a common issue among men who are particularly machismo. Fields often gives her clients the advice to minimize their risk by minimizing their exposure, in other words, use common sense.
Dr. Angela Cozart came from Puerto Rico when she was 3 and half years old. She went to a school where there were 45 Hispanic students in the whole school.
“Anytime anything went wrong in my New Jersey town, it was ‘those darn Puerto Ricans’.” -Dr. Cozart
Despite straight A’s, she was denied enrollment into the Honors Classes. There were no Hispanics, and only one black student, in those classes. Throughout her life Dr. Cozart has been constantly asked “What are you?”, and has been told “You don’t look Puerto Rican”, to which her response is “What does a Puerto Rican look like?”. The audience stood and clapped in amusement and agreement.
Dr. Cozart did not let discrimination hold her back from an education, and she later became a high school English teacher.
“One year I had a group of Neo-Nazis in my class. I had a responsibility to prove to them that I knew what I was doing, for those that would come behind me.” -Dr. Cozart
Today, Dr Cozart is a professor of English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL) and is an active advocate for granting more immigrants access to ESOL courses in South Carolina.
“You don’t have to leave your culture behind. You can be proud of your heritage and be part of both worlds.” -Dr. Cozart
Many cadets in attendance were Hispanic, and were able to relate to the experiences that the panelists shared:
“Seeing the panels today, and hearing what they conveyed is a lot of the same as what my family has gone through. It gave me a different perspective because I thought it was just a one-time-thing that my family experienced, but it’s really across the board with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and all Latinos, where we get stereotyped. We joke about it, but over the years it either hasn’t gotten better, or it’s actually gotten worse.” -Cadet Michael Scheuer
Despite the seriousness of the topics discussed, cadets expressed to the panelists that they were inspired by the discussion. There was a general sense of hope for the future through talking about the past. The event served to raise awareness of real issues that affect cadets in our corps, but it also celebrated the unique identities and values that Latino cadets add to our Long Grey Line.
-CDT Rhaei Brown