Yesterday was my final day of my internship at Border Action Network. My time has unquestionably presented its share of challenges — BAN laid off its entire staff during my second week there, leaving me to at times feel lonesome. But I have relished the opportunity to engage in in-depth conversations with the executive and deputy directors at Border Action, Juanita Molina and Michael Monyak, respectively. They have valued my perspective on issues even though I am just a 20-year-old undergraduate student who has yet to enter the workforce. They have given me advice on life, from how to take advantage of opportunities I encounter every day to how to act in a workplace with people who have divergent interests.
Juanita and Michael invited me to have lunch yesterday. I told them about a point of contention that has caused some consternation among the other Duke students here in Tucson. Some have felt leaders and speakers have personally attacked their privileges. Some feel that the speakers intend to make the students feel guilty.
I have a different perspective from the others. I listen to the music of Rage Against the Machine and Talib Kweli, whose messages are often polemical. I took a course on ethics that included frank discussions on race and ethnicity. I took another course titled, “Immigrant Dreams, American Realities.” I am acutely aware that the United States has subjugated and exploited entire races of people quite ruthlessly. With my perspective, I have struggled to find common ground between the Duke students and speakers.
Juanita and Michael told me about a book they keep in the offices of Border Action, The Four Agreements. Based on Toltec wisdom, the book offers four maxims to live by. One of the agreements is, “Don’t take anything personally.” The book says that what others say and do in reality has nothing to do with you, but with them. Their statements are merely a projection of their own realities. After hearing them speak, I concluded that many other Duke students have taken the statements people have made very personally. They hear people talk about the wrongs the United States has committed (or continues to commit) and interpret it as an affront to their lives.
Through this entire DukeEngage experience, I have heard undocumented young people tell me about how they took AP courses in high school and graduated at the top of their classes. But because of their immigration status, they do not quality for in-state tuition in Arizona. I have felt very privileged in Tucson — as a U.S. citizen, as a man and as a white Hispanic who often passes as a simple Caucasian. The proper response, I have found, is not to feel guilty or offended. Instead, I should use my position and the opportunities I was fortunate to grow up with to advocate for a truly egalitarian society. We have all been given a gift. It is up to us if we want to fight for more people to have this gift.