Why I Proudly Chose A USA Dorm Theme

Why I Proudly Chose A USA Dorm Theme

My dorm is the land of the free, home of the brave.

Asking an incoming freshman what their dorm theme is, is like asking someone what their favorite ice cream flavor is. You are guaranteed at least a combination of different answers depending on the individual. Some use their favorite colors, others showcase their creative talents with their inspiration coming from Pinterest or Tumblr. But for someone with barely any artistic abilities, I chose an American theme.

Why? I love the United States. When I told a few friends before leaving for school about my USA theme, their responses were that I was "generic" and that my stars and bars were offensive. I not only wondered why, but more importantly, I wondered, "How?" I thought to myself, "Am I not allowed to love my own country? Is it truly offensive to display American flag memorabilia? And if it is, how would you be able to distinguish that between patriotism and arrogance?"

To set a few things straight, this country is the farthest thing from perfection. I cannot ignore the many injustices and atrocities that Americans and our citizens have encountered throughout our history--from Columbus' brutal treatment of the Native Americans all the way up to the recent attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia. I know that the flag I choose to hang on my wall has history of brutal bloodshed, battle victories, and civil injustices. And trust me, America never will be perfect. That isn't the goal; hanging my flag is not obnoxiously reminding people of these daily horrors. Rather, the goal for a better America is not to be perfect but rather to be a "land of the free"-- to work together with all people from diverse religions, ethnicities, socio-economic status, and cultures, to rid the world of evident racism, white supremacy, and bigotry, and to unite as one to combat acts of terror and violence.

America is NOT Donald Trump. We wear freedom, not blonde toupees. America is NOT Charlottesville. American is NOT the Ku Klux Klan. We do not wear white hoods of racism and bigotry.

America IS Walt Disney. America is creators. America IS Albert Einstein. America is innovators. America is soldiers. America IS Alexander Hamilton. America is immigrants. America IS Eleanor Roosevelt. America is powerful women and men working together.

Whenever I think about what the United States represented to people in the past, I think of my Italian ancestors who immigrated to the United States a couple of generations ago. Their eyes awed at the sight of Ellis Island as they finally completed their strenuous journey across the Atlantic, and their hearts yearned for a new life according to the mirage of the "American dream". To them, America was more than the Red Scare which immersed their new culture in fear.

I think of the families who suffer civil injustices in Syria, who distract themselves from the bomb sirens with the thought of being saved or for a better life in America. My flag is a symbol of hope--not hate--for you.

I think of the armed men and women who sacrifice themselves every single day for the sole purpose of service. To them, I owe the utmost respect and honor; because without them, I could not imagine what kind of life I would have. To all those who serve or have served, and to my friends who will one day serve in the Navy and Merchant Marines, my American flag hangs high in my dorm because of you.

I think of the admirable efforts women have made within the past century. Women like Susan B. Anthony all the way up to Malala continue to fight for women's rights all across the globe. Together, we have truly made progress in a world that was once shut off to our opinions; a world where we were considered second class citizens. Now, we know what equality is like in this country when we marry the person we want, receive our college diploma at the university we chose, and plan the career we have always dreamed of.

However, these rights are not found throughout our global community. Women cannot drive in various parts of the Middle East, women are gang raped in sections of Africa and Asia, women are mercilessly mutilated, and women continue to be sold to much older men against their will. These acts of injustice should not be tolerated, regardless of whatever oppressive culture extols them. And I hope and pray that this generation, including myself, recognizes these injustices and helps to modify these outdated and brutal societies. My Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It" poster is in my room because of you and the struggles we still face today.

I chose an American dorm theme not because I am intolerant or unaccepting of other nations and their cultures. My dorm is a land of the free, not a place to brag. I am not selfish because I love my country. I am not obnoxious if I hang an American flag. I am simply passionate about the values that my country was founded upon, the values Washington, Hamilton and Jefferson-as imperfect as they were as normal human beings-built this country on. From there, I can only hope we, as a country, work towards a greater community amidst the hate, terror, and injustice of our time.

Cover Image Credit: Juliana Cosenza

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Are You Privileged?

Privilege - a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

During finals, someone asked me how I got such a good grade on my organic chemistry final and I just said "I studied" and he proceeded to tell me it was because I am privileged.

When I argued with this Hispanic man (I need to mention his ethnicity because he used mine as an argument) he said "You're American, white, college educated, and have married parents." (All the things he listed were also true for him - he was born in the United States, his parents were married and legal immigrants, he was also college educated.)

The only thing he lacked was my skin color, so I assume he was trying to point out my white privilege, which I know 100% exists, but was not the reason why I got a good grade on my final.

It really made me think. I came up with a million arguments as to why I wasn't privileged. I'm not American, I'm actually a Brasilian DACA student who's DACA expires right before graduating college meaning that, yes, I am college educated, but may not be a college graduate. Yes, I do have white skin and my parents are happily married, even though it wasn't always that way.

So, maybe not all of the arguments he used we exactly my privilege points. But I did realize, after thinking long and hard, that I am very privileged. I have a car, a cell phone, a warm place to live, plenty of food to eat (probably too much if you ask my mom), friends and family who love me unconditionally. I have a job that pays for what it needs to. I am very privileged.

Privilege is having access to the internet and a computer. Privilege is waking up in the morning in your own bed with blankets. Privilege is picking up your phone to tweet or write an article every time Donald Trump does something that you don't agree with. Privilege is being able to hug you mom every day and complain about all the stupid their parents ask you to do. Privilege is the smell of coffee in the morning. Privilege is being upset when things don't go your way. EVERYONE has some sort of privilege that the next person does not.

It may not be apparent, but everyone is privileged. Even the snot-bag that pointed out my privilege because I passed my exam. Maybe he doesn't have the privilege of being responsible enough to stay up and study the night before he has an exam, but he does have the privilege of going out the night before his exam. And that makes him privileged all the same as me.

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My Encounter With A White Person Who Didn't Understand Their Privilege

And what I learned as a person of color.

Just the other day, in my women’s studies course, Gender, Race, and Class, we began the class with a bit of a controversial discussion relating to white people and the N-word. Discussions ensued about the topic, and as you can imagine, there were some differences of opinion. The discussion then progressed into the topic of white privilege.

Now, let me give you a little bit of perspective. In this course, there is a group of approximately only 14 students, including myself. Of all those students there are only two people of color — myself, and another student who is a transfer.

Ironically enough, it seemed as though the majority of the other students understood the concept of white privilege and recognized that they had it. One person, however, did not.

This person claimed that white privilege isn’t really a “thing,” as we are all born with the same rights and have the same opportunity to accomplish the same goals. They argued that they have known white people who have never had a home and have struggled financially their entire lives and they have equally known people of color who become very successful in life and have never worried about finances. That, they argued, refutes the idea that white people tend to have some kind of upper hand.

To refute this, the other person of color in the room and I offered examples of how white privilege exists in our society, to no further understanding from the person. More impactful, however, was the example illustrated by another white person, in which she told us a story of an experience she had at a local Starbucks.

She explained that in her experience, she entered into a Starbucks and ordered coffee, and as she was waiting for her coffee, she found herself standing in front of two police officers also waiting for coffee. She expressed that in realizing the two cops were in her presence, she “felt a little safer than [she] had before.” And for a second, she said she thought about her position in that moment and realized her own privilege, for in that moment, she was released of any fear.

In contrast, this is not something that can be said by many people of color, who in light of a growing number of cases of police brutality live in fear of being caught “walking while [insert non-white adjective here].”

Despite this illustration, the person aforementioned still could not recognize there was any privilege, insisting that I have the same opportunity as them, regardless of the color of my skin or the ethnicity of my parents.

The issue they failed to realize is that this, in fact, is not true. Though perhaps, in theory, it may be true that I was born with the exact same rights and opportunity, in essence, in the very substance that makes me who I am, that is not the case.

The person of color’s reputation has forever been tainted into being “the other” and “less” than a white person, and this reputation has successfully, psychologically infiltrated the minds of every member of society, including people of color themselves, through historical social constructs.

That is the realization that dawned on me altogether. Even if I work hard enough, end up in the same places, do the same jobs, it will never mean the same. It will never be interpreted the same. Many flaws will be found to condition and diminish my success. It will never be as praiseworthy.

It’s like the resume experiment. Two identical resumes and different names, one white and one ethnic-sounding, and the white-sounding name gets the job.

THAT is white privilege. White privilege is feeling safe around cops because you are not perceived as a threat by default. White privilege is being portrayed for your good qualities when you commit a crime and getting a charismatic shot in the paper instead of your mugshot. White privilege is the President of the United States referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals,” Muslims as "terrorists,” black protestors as “sons of bitches,” but white-supremacist Neo-Nazis as “very fine people.” White privilege is having your successes elevated and your failures downplayed.

White privilege is not understanding your privilege.

And so, after the class, I went to my car and cried for a very long time because for the first time I really realized, no matter how great I become, I will never be esteemed with the same regard as a white person. And better yet, we will never understand each other. Like the great German thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “No one has ever properly understood me, I have never fully understood anyone; no one understands anyone else.”

No matter how hard I try, the white person has never walked in my shoes and therefore will never understand me nor the essence of their privilege, and I as a person of color will never understand anything more than marginalization.

Cover Image Credit: Sabrina Sanchez

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