Loyola’s Caribbean Student Union held a lecture last night featuring Michael Benitez, a scholar who is traveling the nation, discussing social justice, activism, and educating the minds of college students across America. The event was held in the Loyola-Notre Dame Library Auditorium, and as Benitez approached the podium, the room full of students became silent.
ALANA Services organized this lecture, and proves to be one of Loyola’s many student organizations that help encourage social awareness and cultural appreciation. Benitez addresses these topics directly by talking about what it means to be Caribbean and Latino, and how society can have an impact on a social identity.
Benitez used personal experiences and various cultural contexts to explain his thoughts on social issues. He told a story where someone had asked him where he was from. Benitez simply responded by saying he grew up in Washington Heights, and also lived in Pennsylvania for a while. However, apparently that was not enough.
“Where are you really from?” the person asked again. Looking back on the interaction, he said, “It doesn’t take much more for me to feel that I don’t belong. Latinos are asked this same question, yet they have been here for generations and for some, all they know is American culture.” He expressed the significance of unity and distinctiveness, and wanted to get the opinions and thoughts on perceptions of latinos from the audience.
Responses ranged from dancing and spicy food, to immigration, various stereotypes, and even eurocentrism. Benitez gave the students a crash course in hispanic history, and was able to bring in modern examples to explain the evolution of such a dynamic culture. This high-energy and engaging discussion kept students interested throughout the lecture.
After the event, Paul Rodriguez, a senior at Loyola University was asked about what he thought of the session. He said, “I learned how Caribbean hispanics can be black, white, or anything in between. I consider myself a white-hispanic, so it is something personal for me, and I can relate to what he was saying.”
As the presentation ended, Benitez said his closing remarks and even took pictures with attendees, who were looking forward to the next visit.
For more information, check out his wesbite.