Celebration enlightens perceptions

Students engage with Hispanic Heritage Month.


Rebecca Mitchell/THE CHIMES

Rebecca Mitchell, Writer

Another conference time had rolled around and this meant casual clothes, rather than the button-up shirt, dress pants and fancy tie that made the world view him as a professor. Walking through campus in his jeans and soccer jersey, he simply wanted to find Blackstone Cafe. As he set out on his adventure, there was no doubt in his mind about his identity as a Hispanic Talbot professor. But as he walked across campus in search of Blackstone Cafe, Campus Safety stopped him. A student had reported him as a suspicious person. He was seen as a threat to the campus.

gaining a new perspective and realizing biases

Octavio Esqueda, Talbot professor of Christian Higher Education, shared this story as a way for people to gain a new perspective and realize their biases. Hispanic Heritage Month spans from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as a national celebration. At Biola, students heard from associate professor of sociology La Dawn Johnson, junior sociology major Melanie Ortiz, Esqueda and alumnus Joey Aguirre at the Culture Unveiled event on Sept. 18.

With Hispanic culture, as with others, many misconceptions follow them which need to be dispelled, and as a part of Hispanic Heritage Month, the importance of listening to people’s stories stands out more than ever. Esqueda emphasized how people should engage in other’s stories to see how their lives are being impacted and learn to cry and to rejoice with these people.

For those in Southern California, Hispanic culture’s impact remains immeasurable, including the fact Spanish was the first European language used in the area, according to Esqueda. He also shared how with recent events, such as President Trump’s decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Hispanic culture has been discussed in a variety of ways which can enhance misconceptions.

“I think definitely the political and social climate affects the way we see things. There’s a lot of misunderstandings, even about immigration,” Esqueda said. “So obviously those kind of ideas affect the way people see Hispanics in general and then Latino Heritage Month. So, I think that’s partly why it’s important to have conversations and make people aware about the cultural heritage of Latinos, and that I always like to say that they are not the newcomers, they were here before the Anglo population came.”

“proximity brings empathy and distance brings suspicion’

Esqueda continues to learn how to join in these necessary conversations. Recently for him this has meant hearing from his African-American brothers and sisters. With these added perspectives he was able to view Charlottesville with their sets of eyes, to see beyond the people on the TV to his friends, to the people he is forming relationships with.

“A phrase I heard last year that has been in my mind since then, and especially applies to this, the current political situation that we live in, is that proximity brings empathy and distance brings suspicion,” Esqueda said.

For Ortiz forming close relationships transformed her time at Biola, and it became a place where she and her culture could be appreciated. In her adjustment phase, she looked at the community here and found no one who looked like her, no one who could understand her background. Slowly, friends in the Torrey Honors Institute began befriending her, began listening to her.

“It took the hospitality of white friends in the Torrey program… to listen, to be really offended sometimes and to be my friend first. And then ask me questions about race,” Ortiz said to the audience. “I think that’s the key to all of it. And that’s what’s really making my experience so rich here now, is that my closest friends are white women, but when I got here I was terrified and really did not want to be here, and now I would never want to leave, but it took a lot.”

The way students can engage in conversations about culture can start here at Biola with biblical foundations. Sophomore public relations major and Student Programming and Activities event coordinator Angelique Calvillo shared this foundation comes from believing everyone is created in the image of God.

“In general it’s learning, gaining the perspective that everything is made in God’s image. And we say that so often, but if that’s the case then we would be so eager to learn and to really just want to know every single thing about a person,” Calvillo said. “By gaining perspective on understanding that person, you’re really saying ‘God I want to know more about you because you created this person, you created their heart, you created who they are, their facial, the way they look, the way their hair is, the way their face is,’ whatever it is just in general that is literally God right there.”

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