Sebastian Rojas

Latin American/Latino/Colombia

 

Sebastian: My mom is White and from New England. My dad is Colombian and came to the U.S. when he was about 17. I identify as Latino, Hispanic, and biracial.

 

Eliza: Do you identify as White as well? 

 

Sebastian: Generally, if it's a check off a box, I check off Latino first. If I can choose more than one box, I check both. But I check off Latino before I check off White. 

 

Eliza: Is there a reason why you check off Latino before White?

 

Sebastian: That's a good question, actually… I mean, I guess one reason why is because I don't necessarily fit into the White box. Obviously, I don't look White. I grew up speaking Spanish as well. Being Latino is such a part of who I am. I don't know how to describe it.

Especially when I was a lot younger, people on TV were always White. I thought that if I had a White name or a White family, I could be better. 

 

I'd watch a movie and be like, "Wow, this guy's so cool, but I could never be like that." or "Wow this person is really smart. I can never be like him." It was only later when I realized that I thought that way because I'm brown and from a Latino household. 

The news and school told me Latinos weren't as good. In middle school, I grew taller and broader… wow this is getting a lot heavier… and people would lock their doors in parking lots while I walked by. It's pretty obvious why they did that, but I'm not a scary person. And their actions stood out to me a lot. 

When I walk into a classroom, I can tell when someone looks at me different. The teacher has slightly lower expectations, which I've grown to embrace because that means when I do well that may just put me in their face. Especially when I go to a new place, and particularly if I'm visiting a new church, I'm always a little more apprehensive when I walk in. I have had a lot of bad prior experiences, so I was really nervous visiting churches for a practicum class. I would make sure I walk in with and stay with a White friend throughout. 

One big "I'm proud to be Latino" moment for me was in 2015 when Hamilton the musical first came out. Hamilton being played by a Latino person completely flipped the game on Broadway news. Lin Manuel Miranda, who played Hamilton, said that the biggest problem, even to this day, is representation. It was very well done and, at the same time, very Latino. 

 

As we are growing up, in classes, and even right now, a lot of the theologians we're studying are generally White Europeans. I'm not saying anything bad about the university because professors do tell me there are other authors out there that I can find and read.

 

Overall, I am Latino, and I do speak Spanish, but, on the other hand, I don't fit into 90% of stereotypes. How do I say this in a nice way?

 

Eliza: You don't have to.

 

Sebastian: Fair enough. I'm pretty good with school, I didn't grow up playing soccer, I'm Latino, but at the same time, I'm not what you expect from TV.

 

It led to a lot of questions like if I should even bother identifying as Latino because I come from a pretty good family, we don't have any financial troubles, and both my parents have college degrees and careers that are super successful. But at the same time, obviously, people look at me differently everywhere I go. 

 

I feel a disconnect when issues of immigration come up on TV. I don't relate because my parents immigrated through legal processes. By the time I was born and could understand what was going on, they were all naturalized, voting citizens. I've come from such a good position-my grandparents, my dad, have all gotten such good work by working from the bottom up. I've heard so much from their stories about the crappy jobs they had to do. It really sucked for them because they're so highly educated in Colombia, but just because they couldn't speak English and they looked different, they couldn't go right into the big jobs that they deserved. But look at where they were to where they're at now. In my case, to have that position of privilege, I’m like, "I can't not speak up for these people." If I don't, I'm not doing what my parents and family intended for me. It’s a feeling of responsibility.

 

Sebastian: I used to be scared of sharing or speaking about my culture with others. About that time is when immigration stuff became front and center and the TV show Narcos came about, which caused people to have a negative view of Colombia.

 

Eliza: You mentioned that used to be worse. What made it better? What helped you transition from that to where you are now?

 

Sebastian: I guess taking time to myself to really wrestle with a lot of these questions. Because, before, it was just this nice perfect world where race didn't matter nearly as much. Now it's like, I am a different color, and others are also wrestling a lot with their identity. So they take it on in different ways, and it's a lot tougher, but I'm raised to absolutely not do that. So I had to wrestle with a lot of those questions on my own. 

 

I remember how my mom was horrified at it all. I remember, in particular, after the Michael Brown shooting, when those police brutality stuff came out, my mom had a conversation telling me that if something like that happened, this is what I should do and how I should respond. That moment wasn't a lot of fun, and I've had to wrestle with a lot more questions from there. 

 

Eliza: Would you say you've experienced discrimination on Asbury's campus?

 

Sebastian: Let me actually think about this one. As soon as I moved onto my hall, they were all very welcoming. They said, "We want to get to know you, to do stuff with us, hang out with us." But after there were some of the quote, unquote "hate White people" chapels, some people do look at me differently, some people came to me with questions, and some have had attitude changes… I've become much more noticed, and that's been a transition.

 

Eliza: Interesting. So has that been a primarily negative experience? People coming up to you after "race chapels"?

 

Sebastian: Uh huh. I'd say like, there were a couple people I was genuinely good friends with, but after those chapels, I started to just avoid and not talk to because all they were gonna do was complain and cuss about it. 

 

Eliza: Like they were complaining to you, not asking you questions?

 

Sebastian: Yeah.

 

Eliza: That's unfortunate. Those are supposed to spark questions.

 

Sebastian: They said, "Are issues like this actually that bad? Do they actually happen? Wasn't this over after the Civil Rights Movement?" Also, there's been a lot of, "White people have these problems, too," which is a good point, but at the same time, there's just so many more problems for others. I remember talking to a professor about this, and he brought up the idea of condemnation versus conviction. In God, there's no condemnation, but he does convict us of things. Many people look at race issues and turn them from conviction to condemnation. So they just don't put up with it and get angry.

 

Eliza: They view it as being condemned?

 

Sebastian: Yeah.

 

Eliza: Gotcha. That's actually really insightful. What is your response to arguments like, "Wasn't this dealt with in the past?"

 

Sebastian: Honestly, whenever they're like that, I just don't talk to them at first because they're still mad. Generally, after they've calmed down, they're willing to sit down and have conversation. After you sit down and talk it through, they agree on so much more than they seem to do initially. It's just that their gut reaction is, "You make me feel bad." After you sit down and talk about it, it really starts becoming more agreeable and real. Not to say that they're changed. That's not how it happens, for sure.

 

Eliza: But being informed helps ignorance because that's all it might be.

 

Sebastian: Yeah.

 

Eliza: That's awesome. So you've been able to have conversations like that when people were willing? 

 

Sebastian: Yeah.

 

Eliza: That's really great. Because I think a lot of people stop at, "Well, I'm just gonna avoid them and not talk to them." And then their worldview never gets shaken. 

© 2020 by Eliza Tan