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The March of La Raza

GUEST COMMENTARY

By Juan E. Garcia and Edgar Saldivar

Muted. Our message, which was supposed to be delivered to the nation at the Latino March on October 12, received apathetic media coverage. Although we somehow briefly made it to the front pages of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the overall television and newspaper coverage was not substantive enough to voice the full effect of the march. We wonder why it takes thousands of people converged at the front of the White House to prove that we exist.

Nearing the Capitol, tens of thousands of people marched under a colorful array of Latin American flags, united in spirit and with the determination to be heard. Small children marched quickly alongside their weary parents. Downtrodden workers demanding just treatment shared their signs with civil rights activists, Central American refugees and socially conscious students. Despite the diversity of backgrounds present at the March, we were able to lay these differences aside and come together that morning to address the marginalization of Latinos in the United States.

Our situation here at Harvard is a good example of the manner in which Latinos are ignored. We are not heard in the symphony of "Harvard diversity." For example, a recent statistics project covered by The Crimson, which made an attempt to determine the racial breakdown of Harvard housing, disregarded Latinos; this adds to our invisibility on campus. Lack of institutional support leads to an environment where students on campus do not even remember us when it comes time to study the effects of randomization on the racial balance in the Harvard houses.

Harvard has one of the best African-American Studies program in the country. And we look forward to the day when we have a department focusing on the significance and history of Latinos in the United States, considering the fact that Latinos will be the largest minority by the year 2020. Our contributions to this nation have a long history. From the time when Latino soldiers fought alongside American revolutionaries, to Cesar Chavez's struggle for the just treatment of migrant farm workers in the 1960s, to today's young, motivated Latinos marching for political recognition, we have actively participated in the shaping of American cultural and political dynamics. Our history and potential for success in this country should be recognized at all levels, from national politics to college campuses.

Several universities across the country have always known of the importance of studying Chicano/Latino issues and have established departments that focus on the significant contributions of our culture and labor. Professors including Rodolfo Acuna from California State University at Northridge, Carlos Munoz from the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard Visiting Professor Maria Herrera-Sobek from the University of California at Irvine have devoted themselves to better understanding the experiences of Chicanos and Latinos in the United States.

The opportunity for students to learn about this significant dimension of American culture should not be denied. It is for these and other reasons that Harvard should establish an ethnic studies department offering tenure to Latina/o professors who are sympathetic to the Latino struggles. With an increase in the availability of educational opportunities for all Latinos--from the barrios to Harvard--the greater will be our influence in social and political arenas, as well as in science and technology. Lectures and discussions about social stratification, bilingualism, ethnic identity and race have historically reflected the black-white paradigm--one into which we do not completely fit. We are raza, an identity alluding to the struggles of the Latino experience, our familial pride, our labor and our unity as a people.

The faces of all who marched down the streets of Washington reflected this spirit of unity. Blended in the myriad of Latin American flags were American flags, indicating our willingness to participate in the American culture while contributing our heritage. The march was a connecting force binding history and progress in one. Millions of people watched at home, knowing their voices were the chanting of the marchers, their passions were embodied in the converged masses and their hopes, our parents' hopes, were reignited by the visions of their children, America's children. We marched in support of each other and the American dream. We marched to establish a presence and to show that raza can become an American concept.

Juan E. Garcia '99 and Edgar Saldivar '99 are members of Harvard-Radcliffe Raza.

We came together to address the marginalization of Latinos in the United States.

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