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DIVERSITY, DIVESTMENT, DISCRIMINATION

No ifs, ands or buts about it. No pretext, no qualifiers, no asterisks. Let us simply acknowledge the fact that UCLA is racist. For anyone who takes issue with this statement, may I remind you of the absolute shit-show we refer to as campus climate at UCLA. In my past four years here, I have experienced and seen racist viral rants, misogynistic and racist letters posted publicly for the world to see, racial discrimination lawsuits filed against UCLA, racist and misogynistic graffiti on the doors of students, reports detailing instances of race-based discrimination against faculty members, daily microaggressions of all sorts, even faculty questioning the merits of students of color.

And those events don’t even address issues of structural racism at UCLA. Retention and access efforts of students of color are ridiculously underfunded, and a diversity requirement is not included in our general education. Students of color, queer students, undocumented students, women, and pretty much anyone who falls outside of the heterosexual white middle class lifestyle are thrown into a culture of constant attack.

Perhaps nowhere is this more relevant than the failed student government resolution to divest from U.S. companies that directly profit from committing lasting and physical harm against Palestinians. A majority of the undergraduate student council members (Avi Oved, Sunny Singh, Darren Ramalho, Armen Hadjimanoukian, Lauren Rogers, Sam Haws, and Jessica Kim) squandered a unique opportunity to stand for human rights. A majority of our student representatives ruled that it was more important to spare the feelings of anti-divestment students than it was to stop investing money in companies that destroy Palestinian homes, deny their freedom of movement and wall them away like animals. A majority of our student representatives decided this and essentially condoned the subtext that Palestinians deserve to live in such conditions. By knowingly financing these atrocities, the pain of Palestinian students’ relatives is disregarded.

At this undergraduate student council meeting (which lasted for over 11 hours) I heard racist, Islamophobic, hateful, and vile speech. I heard students normalize and belittle the violence and human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people. I repeatedly heard students against the divestment bill equate Palestinians to terrorists, claiming that if this resolution were to pass, their families, the state of Israel, and indeed any semblance of democracy in the Middle East would come under immediate bomb threat. I heard over and over and over again that students who supported divestment—including Jewish students— were blatant anti-Semitics.

During this meeting, a friend of mine was cornered in the bathroom and asked to defend her viewpoints as to why the Palestinian and Latina/o struggle are connected. Brushing aside the clear intimidation methods used against her, my friend replied that one of the companies included in the resolution was Cemex—the same corporation which builds the increasingly militarized U.S.-Mexico border. Collectively, Latina/o students voiced support for divestment not only because of the brutal abuse of power executed by military occupation and the application of settlements towards a people, but because our Raza can relate to the concept of invasion, dispossession, occupation, exploitation and discrimination. We stated our unwillingness to contribute to companies that use our money to keep people restricted with arbitrary borders and checkpoints, which is something we are all too familiar with.

The protection of white privilege at this university has never been so obvious to me. UCLA, your message is heard loud and clear. This institution reaffirmed that they don’t care if Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Latina/o, Chicana/o, Indian, Feminist, Pakistani, Indigenous American, Vietnamese, Pilipino, Black, Queer, Afghan, Iranian, Armenian, and Sikh students come together for a just cause. They don’t care that students of color were united in overwhelming support of divestment. They don’t care that human rights violations are being committed with our tuition. When it comes down to it, our lives and our issues are somehow less valuable.

I emphatically reject the claim that UCLA values diversity. It has characterized Palestinians (and many others) as second-class students. I am tired of the empty promises and the patronizing pats on the back. I am tired of the tokenization of students of color whose happy, smiling faces are plastered on every UCLA advertisement. Never have I felt so alienated on this campus.

To the Bruin community and the greater Los Angeles community, I say that the violence, racism, and discrimination against us ends now. It ends now because we say it will end, because we are not being silent any longer. In solidarity y con cariño!

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ESCRIBIENDO PA’ LA GENTE DESDE 1971

On January 17, 2014, three members of La Gente’s original staff came to speak to current staff members. Sam Paz, Josie Alavarez, and Laura “Woody” Rangel spoke of the past struggles and accomplishments of La Gente’s inception. Due to a lack of outlets for Latin@ sensitive articles, student activists created their own Latin@ newspaper, La Gente, in February of 1971. Paz, the first editor-in-chief, was surprised that it has lasted this long.

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CONFESSIONS OF A MUSLIM LATINA

As a child of Mexican immigrants, I grew up culturally Catholic. But since I couldn’t find Him there, I decided to seek Him for myself. I never lost faith in God and after years of searching, I finally found peace in Islam.

Even though I was extremely content with my new religion I felt lonely at UCLA. I quickly found myself bound between two completely different minority groups in America—Muslims and Latinos. Already a minority on campus as a Latina, I was also a minority in my religious community since the majority of Muslims at UCLA are of Arab or South Asian descent. I felt like an anomaly, so I began to overcompensate my Latina identity by rolling “r’s” in conversation and carrying Tapatio hot sauce everywhere I went. I became known as “The Latina” of the Muslim Students Association (MSA).

After two years, I stumbled on an old issue of the Muslim student newsmagazine, Al-Talib, that discussed the Los Angeles Latino Muslim Association. I soon began inquiring about the stories of other Latino Muslims and found out that a friend of mine named Karla (also a Mexicana) had converted to Islam.

I finally found someone with whom I could share my experience. We exchanged stories about how our families confused Islam for Hinduism, the pain in having to give up chicharrones, and, ultimately, how our friends and loved ones felt about our conversions. Sharing this experience with Karla helped balance my identity as a Mexican and Muslim woman.

I have been a Muslim for over three years and am actively involved in the Muslim community through MSA UCLA and MSA West. Participating in such organizations has allowed my distinct identity to be expressed. It has also provided a channel through which my political drive can be exercised—by educating my two different communities on issues ranging from the DREAM Act to Ramadan.

It was not hard to gain acceptance in the Muslim community since the Muslim brothers and sisters shared similar values towards family as I did and also because they love converts! It was, however, difficult to try to learn new vocabulary. For example, the word for “mijo” in Urdu is “beta” (term of endearment). It was funny.

I connected with my peers in MSA through childhood stories and discussions on food. After bragging rounds, I dispelled rumors that Mexican food didn’t just consist of tacos and burritos. I introduced them to albondigas, ceviche, and authentic tamales. And of course, they had to recognize the superiority of Mexican cuisine.

I represent a growing population of converts in the United States. According to a 2010 report by The Pew Research Center, the Muslim population is around 2.6 million. Although the exact number of Latino Muslims isn’t known, Hjamil A. Martinez-Vazquez, author of Latina/o y Musulmán: The Construction of Latina/o Identity among Latina/o Muslims in the United States, explains that it ranges from 75,000 to 100,000.

To this day, I am still reconciling my identity as a Mexican Muslim woman. I am given the opportunity to shape the narrative of my community in this country. With my strong grounding in my faith, I look forward to contribute to the great legacy of the leaders in the Latino community.