Luis Ruiz 15 August 2008 LĂderes de Hoy National Essay Contest
Diversity Jose Del Cid, originally from Nicaragua, immigrated to the U.S. as an infant. I was ten when I came to this country and met Jose, who would soon become my best friend. When I arrived to Hilton Head Island in 1998, there were only a few other kids in school who spoke Spanish, so Jose was actually my only friend for a while. At school, Jose would translate for me and help me with assignments. He even taught me how to swim at our apartment's indoor pool. Unlike me, Jose had more than one friend. He was one of the most "popular" kids in school actually. This I attributed to his polite, generous, and outgoing nature. I even remember making fun of him for his choice of words when he spoke to elders. Eight years later, my uncle entered my room in the middle of the night with the phone in his hand, hesitant to wake me up. Despite the weakness and emotion in her voice, I was still able to recognize Jose's mother on the phone. What I could not comprehend was the news she could barely grasp herself. My friend Jose had not made it home from work the night before. I lay shaking in bed till morning, overwhelmed by fear and confusion. The day of Jose's wake ceremony, I was surprised to see so many people of diverse ethnic backgrounds patiently waiting to enter an already crowded home. From the expressions on their faces I assumed they had known him very well. That day I witnessed the fruit resulting from Jose's cultivation of kindness and generosity in the people he knew. I feel the need to share this story because it was thanks to this friendship that I became aware that no matter where you are
from, if you approach those around you with respect and altruism, you will help eliminate any negative, preconceived beliefs they may hold. For me, this approach has turned out to be the most effective way of promoting, not only tolerance and inclusion, but kindness and compassion in return as well. When I graduated from high school, I had obtained the Life Scholarship, awarded to South Carolina high school graduates who met specific requirements, but, I could not use it. When I was told that I would never be able to benefit from this scholarship due to my then current immigration status, I felt discriminated against and upset, but not discouraged. My motivation simply outweighed the uncertainty of my situation. I knew I would find a way because I know I could not let myself or my grandmother down, especially not after the life changing journey and sacrifices she had made with my future in mind. I was later introduced to Melody Rodriguez, the director of the Hispanic Outreach and Leadership Program (HOLA) at Armstrong Atlantic State University. Melody has helped hundreds of undocumented students achieve a college education through financial aid and mentoring. Thanks to her and the generosity of the Goizueta Foundation, I was finally financially prepared for my freshman year of college. Majoring in psychology and as the vice-president of the HOLA group, I feel fortunate to continue what started ten years ago as a journey into the unknown and suddenly turned into an intellectual odyssey. As a Latino leader, I have helped plan and carry out events that promote education and well-being for the Hispanic community of Savannah, Georgia. I have also tried to stimulate cultural open-mindedness and inclusion in the general public through a variety of events and celebrations where we, the Latino Leaders, demonstrate what our culture and its
people have to offer. Most importantly, everyone is welcome to take part in these fun, sometimes tasty, and of course educational experiences. With the help of other HOLA members, I have been responsible for arranging Hispanic traditional yearly celebrations such as the community Cinco de Mayo festival, the Day of the Dead gathering, and other diverse celebrations such as International Night and Latin Heritage Week. On Fiesta Day, celebrated on Wednesday during Latin Heritage Weak, we educate the public about different Latin American customs and foods by sharing with them our homemade authentic cooking and performing traditional dance and music. For this week, we also host popular Latin American films and culturally enriching concerts and dance performances at the University, local theaters, and cafĂŠs throughout the city. Some of the most memorable events were performances by Chicago's Mexican folk music group, Sones de Mexico, and an amazing dance presentation by Tierra Tango. I have been equally involved in the planning of informative and charitable events such as our annual Heath Fair, and the Chiapas Media Project Presentation, which helped raise awareness of the injustice and corruption that is currently taking place in less developed areas of Latin America. The Health Fair brings together health care professionals willing to volunteer their time to help hundreds of individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford important medical procedures and screenings. During this event, I help translate for non-English speakers. Thanks to all of the experiences I have mentioned above, from my friendship with Jose to HOLA's achievements in advancing acceptance of diversity, I have learned that with generosity, respect, and perseverance anyone can assist in promoting tolerance and inclusion in their community. Prejudiced beliefs are hard to change from one day to the next, and just like Jose
acquired the trust and respect of many people through persistent acts of kindness, as HOLA's vice-president I seek the same results for the Hispanic Community.