The U.S. Ethnic Studies Program sponsored a short essay contest for Bridgewater State University students to celebrate Ethnic Studies Week October 1-7, 2010. The winning essays were awarded to the following students:
Study on Education
In my second year here at Bridgewater State University, I am walking out in the rain in the commuter parking lot to go to class. It’s pouring outside, and I am not having an umbrella or a hood, but I am still happy from each falling drop. Other students are walking past me, some with hoods, some with umbrellas, and some like me are without either hoods or umbrellas--but seeing this myriad of colors from coats, umbrellas, and clothing makes me connected to this campus. Looking onto their faces, I see that some students have lighter skin, and some have darker skin, and still some are in between of being darker or lighter skinned. As rain is an auspicious sign in the Indian culture, so too am I sensing a great sign in the rain at Bridgewater!
Being a South Asian student, I have already had a taste of what it means to be different. Growing up in a small town in Western Massachusetts, I didn't have much exposure to various cultures in school or where I lived, except for my own Indian culture from our friends’ parties. My Parents themselves were more or less “culturally mainstreamed”, so instead of celebrating the innumerous religious holidays in India, our real celebration was for the festival of Diwali, or the Indian Christmas—as well as celebrating Thanksgiving, Easter, and Halloween. Even though we were westernized, we still had a small altar at home for praying to our many deities, with a place too for Mother Mary and Jesus! Both my Parents were educated in India’s “English Medium Schools”, where the schools were predominantly Catholic and classes were taught in English. My brother and I were raised with the core Indian values including respect and education, but once we stepped out of the house, a whole new culture awaited us.
Entering a community college was really the stepping stone for me in appreciating and learning from other cultures. While the predominant population was Latino at Berkshire Community College, I still met students from Ukraine, Cambodia, India, Thailand, and China to name a few. It was wonderful to see how much they valued their education, and more, how some of them had to work to earn money for school. The importance of being who you are has been what I have learned with meeting and interacting with these people. The time that I was at BCC, the multi-cultural office with a new coordinator was just taking form, and had fully developed by the time I graduated. In this office, we shared many laughs and tears, for although we went on many fun trips we also had to deal with the harsh realities of immigration rights, deportation, and the Dream Act. Some of us may dream to have fairer skins than what we already have, but in the end, we remain the color that we were born with.
Peoples from all parts of the world dream to study in the US because of its many resources, and it’s no wonder that the country can be called a melting pot. Along with the people, there are their celebrations, which most make on a U.S calendar’s list of holidays. BCC did a pretty good job of celebrating these holidays, and as an added bonus, we students at the multicultural office were also encouraged to remind others through many PowerPoint presentations. The awareness of cultural holidays though multiplied when coming to Bridgewater, with me really coming face to face with other cultures. Part of learning is observing, so only through sitting down for a Passover meal and seeing my friends fast through the Islamic holy month of Ramadan while being so far away from home did I appreciate my own self and worth in life. We are all here to learn, so whether you wear a cap or headscarf to class, it would reflect your understanding of others—which in the end comprises an education. I have made wonderful friends at Bridgewater State, and hope to still gain an awareness of other cultures through my many questions!
It is the middle of the week when Mother Nature decided to have this water bath over the university, with the result of wet students and their backpacks for the remainder of the week. On the other side of campus though, a tall bell tower is seen through the cloudy day looking over Boyden quad, glistening with the Massachusetts seal it bears the foundations of an education: BRIDGEWATER STATE UNIVERSITY.
Encounters of a
During my sophomore year at, then, Bridgewater State College, I never thought I would have become great friends with someone so different from me. That was until I met Ricardo, an exchange student from Cape Verde. Little did I know Ricardo would teach me lessons on life and love that I could never possibly have learned without knowing him and experiencing his culture.
When I first met Ricardo he could speak very little English and when posed questions he did not understand he would just nod and smile his big beautiful smile. He froze in the biting New England winter weather, my friends and I tried to fatten him up a bit because his belt, wrapped snuggly around his thin waist, laid with a foot of slack hanging down. We thought we were doing great deeds for our new friend, being open and charitable. Little did we know he would return the “favors” with such profoundness and life knowledge that has become irreplaceable.
Ricardo wore a small sprayed-gold ring. It was dented in several places and was loose on his slender finger, but he wore it proudly and never removed it. When asked why he wore it, his eyes lit up and he spoke of his wife and two small children back home. It opened my eyes to see this cheap ring was indeed just the opposite; it was Ricardo’s world and was priceless to him. In the United States many husbands and wives gush over extravagance and put themselves in debt buying engagement and wedding rings made of platinum and diamonds. The ring becomes the object of affection instead of what it symbolizes. Ricardo put in perspective what love for a family should be. When he looked at his ring he saw his family. When I look down at rings given to me I see the object, no meaning behind it. It’s in small moments like this that Ricardo spoke very simply but you could feel the emotions he was feeling, and it all gave great clarity to the meaning of love and family. He was fueled by love and it was pure, something that I feel I have never truly seen before.
It was Ricardo who made me realize that there are endless meanings of love. Love is not solely romantic, but there is a deep love and appreciation of friendship. Not a day went by when Ricardo wouldn’t tell my friends and I that he loved us and he thought we were queens who deserved great fortunes in life. This was a person whom I had only known for only a couple of months and he made me feel so incredibly fulfilled. Not many friends show open love every day and tell one another how much they are appreciated. It seems like it is almost shunned in our society for being open and loving with our friends. Ricardo made me want to reach out to people and make true meaningful connections. He once said to me “We are a triangle: physical, emotional, and spiritual…but some people forget the spiritual”. I think in this he meant a spiritual awareness of oneself and others around them. We keep going and moving from one point to another with our lives, and shut ourselves off to the world until it’s too late. We lose touch with one another and sometimes we lose ourselves in our busy schedules. With Ricardo, I learned there is always time for self reflection and time with others. It brought such joy to me just to watch Ricardo play cards with his friends from Cape Verde (also exchange students) because it was so simple but the love and laughter that filled the room was natural. It was not forced and no one was ill at ease. Ricardo showed me true companionship, appreciation and love for people and different cultures.
Even in dark times Ricardo gave me an awareness of my own life. I never realized how blessed I was until I heard the stories of his life, a life with a missing father, a dark path of drug abuse, and the most striking to me: his birthday was never properly recorded on his birth certificate. Ricardo has such a life force to him and he sees the good in everybody. Hearing that his real birth date was not recorded on his birth certificate due to government issues with his father, made me realize how my life was free of such emotional hardships. When talking about his father and the mix-up in birthdays, Ricardo became somber, and it was the only time I have ever seen him so low. Birthdays are generally one day most people look forward during the year, and for Ricardo it brings resentment, knowing the complications of his family of orientation and how it affected him as an adult. It was painful to watch someone so good in nature, feel like a nuisance to his family. In this experience I have never felt more appreciative of my own family and all that they have done for me and that I’ve never expressed my thanks, but more or less expected it from them. To see the contrast in lifestyles is terribly striking.
Saying goodbye has never been hard for me. Saying goodbye to Ricardo was one of the meaningful experiences I’ve gone through however. My friends and I helped him pack up his suite case, all the while neglecting ours while the clock was ticking for the dorms to close. I sat in his room stuffing boxed chocolates in every nook and cranny of his luggage for his daughter upon her request. We exchanged addresses for writing letters and helped him out to his van for the airport. Standing outside before he left, he embraced me for what felt like several minutes. As I cried he smiled and said “I know that God will allow us to meet again”. It broke my heart, but it was calming that this wonderful being had such faith and love that he was sure we would all come together again. No need for tears, just hope and joy for the future.
When I think about Ricardo I think pure love. I’ve tried to make more connections with people I come in contact with. I try to show my appreciation for everyone and put love into everything I do. I have never met anyone like Ricardo but I hope to keep spreading his loving message. Without him I would not know love and appreciation as I do now.
Many people believe that college allows us to discover ourselves. We have four years to learn how to write a successful paper, to give an oral presentation without flaw, and have the discipline and endurance needed to withstand a two hour final exam. With a sturdy education, we are able to conquer the working world, to prosper with the knowledge we have painstakingly drilled into our minds. But what do these things teach us about ourselves, and what do these things really help us with in the life that follows after college? In everyday life do we need to understand alliterative verse, or the difference between quadratic equations and mean, median, or mode? These courses are required, and this knowledge imperative to know, but do they really allow us to walk away from college with a true understanding of ourselves? Ethnic studies change the ways in which we view education. The power behind learning about ethnicity and race is that the student is required to know themselves, before they can begin to understand others. Ethnic studies breaks down the walls of education, and instills in the students a sense of individuality that will resonate for many years following college.
My first experience in an ethnic studies course was in the summer of 2010, taking Native American Women Writers. I was unsure of what to expect, and hesitant to participate in a class where I didn’t have a solid foundation in the subject matter. During the first few classes, I found that I was stubborn, and reluctant to open myself up the ideas and challenges the professor presented. I was so firmly planted in the knowledge I had received over the past twenty years, that I was unwilling to change my mentality. As the course went on, I slowly began to see myself in the writings of the Native American women we were studying. I could relate to their pains, and their joys, their prides, and determinations. The more I read, the more I saw myself, and the more I saw myself, the more I began to question myself. I was challenged to rethink who I was, to take what I had learned for so many years, and unreel and dissect it. I had to rediscover myself, how my past had shaped me, and how I planned on pursuing a future. The more I understood of myself, the more I understood others. I began to see and accept people for who they were, rather than judging them by what they were.
Through institutionalization we are programmed to think of the mind and not the heart. We are told to look at facts and not feelings. Ethnic studies break down the barriers of education, and allow you to incorporate both feeling and knowledge. Learning about ethnicity and race is not just about learning about those who are different, but learning about ourselves, and applying that knowledge to other aspects of our lives. Through education we become aware that we are all from different backgrounds, and those backgrounds shape how we learn, and what we learn. Often times these differences are pushed aside, and out of the minds of the students, but ethnic studies embrace them, and show students how important differences are in life.
In my experience, ethnic studies have completely changed me as a person, and gave me what I needed from college Many people believe that college is about finding ourselves, and ethnic studies gave me the opportunity to truly do this. These courses have challenged me as a student, and as a member of society. They have given me a passion for learning about others, and have given me a hope for a future that often seems hopeless. I have been pushed me to think outside of the traditional forms of learning, and because of it, ethnic studies have taught me lessons that will create and shape my future. I know that an education void of ethnic studies, is an education withholding valid and necessary experiences for any, and all students.
The words of Mahatma Ghandi resonate me when I think of the importance of ethnic studies. He once said, “Our greatness lies not so much in being able to make the world...as in being able to remake ourselves.” I see this quote and ethnic studies working together, promoting change within an individual before promoting change within the world. When we allow others to learn about themselves, we expose them to an understanding of others that surpasses just the years of college. Years from now, when I no longer remember the formula to an equation, or the difference between a simile and a metaphor, I will take with me the understanding of myself. I will know that I am an individual, in a world that doesn’t promote individuality. I will know that my opinion matters, in a world that tries to limit the opinions of others, and I will know that ethnic studies have taught me more than any book, or any test, because they have truly taught me what it means to be myself.
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