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The point of diversity

Michelle Romeu | Thursday, April 28, 2011

I completely agree with Ms. Lujan’s April 27 letter (“A different way to be Latino”) where she says, “Our identity is marred by placing ourselves in an exclusive, single-minded group.”

Although I was born in Dallas, Texas, my mother and father grew up in El Salvador and Argentina, respectively. We spoke Spanish at home, and I only learned English when I started preschool. We often visited family in El Salvador, Costa Rica and Argentina. We moved to South Florida when I was six years old and most of our family friends there are from Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and more. Latin American culture has permeated almost every aspect of my life, from language to food to holidays to prayer.

And yet, I spoke English at school, read books in English, watched American TV and read American magazines. While I felt completely comfortable with my Latin American family, I always felt isolated from the Latino kids I grew up around, most of whom were born in their country of origin. From the way they treated me, it felt as though I was never “Latino enough” for them, that they saw me as “too Americanized.” On the other hand, I always felt more comfortable with my American classmates, who thought it was “really cool” that I spoke Spanish and were always very interested in my background.

But why was there such a divide between the two camps? As Ms. Lujan stated, “We should have a more utilitarian and progressive approach to being Latino that does not create barriers with those around us or view them as hostile buffoons we need to fight.” I do not oppose Latino student groups in any way; in fact, I applaud the initiative to keep the different aspects of Latin American culture alive in the United States. However, this should not lead to an “us versus them” approach. We must all recognize that all cultures are important, and that preserving our own should not lead to shutting out others who are different from us.

As Ms. Lujan also stated, groups like MEChA are not the only way to share our culture. When I arrived at Notre Dame in 2006, I had no idea who my friends would be. Four years later, I left Notre Dame with a B.A. in English and friends with a myriad of backgrounds. I taught my roommate phrases in Spanish and she taught us Irish drinking songs. My Ukrainian-American friend shared stories of Ukie school, camps, balls and weddings, all entrenched in their own unique culture. I met up with a friend for pizza while we were both visiting family in Costa Rica. My Vietnamese friends introduced me to pho before it ever arrived at North Dining Hall. We went to the Hawaii Club Lu’au every year to support multiple friends during their performances. Situations like these and more not only made me appreciate the cultures of my friends, but also to appreciate my own as I, in turn, shared it with them.

My experience is only one perspective. I know that not all Latino kids are like the ones I grew up around, and I am sure that my experience does not mirror that of all Latino students at Notre Dame. However, I believe that isolation is never the answer, and that respect will come where respect is given. Isn’t the point of diversity to expose ourselves to people different from us, allowing for a mutual sharing of cultures? If we, as Latinos, open ourselves to others, we cannot say we will never receive openness in return.

Michelle Romeu

Class of 2010

Arlington, VA

Apr. 27