Hope for the Political Future

At our second seminar session, we spoke to Representative Hurtado about his experiences working in the public sector as well as the challenges he must confront when working with institutions.

I asked him a question about the tangibility of institutional change with regard to his nonprofit’s diversity programs that provide college admission and preparatory services to underserved Latinx communities, to which he acknowledged the difficulties that accompanied his work but elaborated upon the systemic changes he made. His answer to the question made me think about our role as individuals in shaping these institutions: it’s extremely difficult to enact change when we aren’t necessarily the ones that hold the most power, but it can be possible— after years of experience and connecting with others in the field. It’s not an easy feat.

Over the past few months, I’ve developed this feeling of political stagnancy and hopelessness. At a time of extreme polarization and political bubbles where it’s easy to gauge where political parties stand on each issue, we often encounter policy gridlocks and a lack of real, tangible change from the government. Shaping change from working with institutions starts with power, and power is largely determined by one’s race, social standing, gender, sexuality and class. So, as a public policy major, I’ve often contemplated whether my own role in the system has any use, because I don’t necessarily have many of these prerequisites for enacting change within and from institutions.

But talking to Representative Hurtado provided me a really unique and nuanced perspective about fixing these institutions. He’s a first-generation Latino college student, and he was able to work on several meaningful projects and work towards the changes he cared about. He, of course, acknowledges that it’s difficult– but, nevertheless, his extensive background in policy and politics is a restorative force that gives me hope for the political future of our generation.

Paradigm Shift

We all have vastly different experiences with racism— as Duke students, our upbringings are varied and historied: some have experienced racism more than others, some have experienced the unique intersection of racism with sexism or  homophobia, some are clueless.

Nevertheless, the majority of us are knowledgeable about racism and racist institutions to some extent. We all have a tacit understanding that racism is bad— but what else?

I grew up in a household where Asian-Americans were supposed to be the hard workers. That implied that other BIPOC were simply genetically inferior. I retained this mindset for years— in my community that was 50% Asian, 40% White, and 10% “other,” I rarely had to confront my own prejudices because I lived in a bubble.

But I’ve learned from that. As I began to navigate a more diverse crowd through high school and extracurriculars, reading lighthearted Buzzfeed articles about hip-hop led to poring over more nuanced pieces in the LA Times about Latinx immigrants, which led to investing in my own community, engaging in volunteer work to mend educational inequities, and writing about workplace reckonings about racism.

I know I still have work to do— but what astounds me is the paradigm shift I was able to achieve just through consuming these forms of media. Humans learn from tools of socialization, so in the same way that we learn racism, we can unlearn it. Over the past year, we’ve seen social media activism flood our feeds: the Black Lives Matter hashtag was used at an all time high rate, our peers reposted mutual aid funds, and so much more.

So that’s why I’m doing this fellowship. I am a firm believer in the glimmer of hope we have in fixing racism and racist attitudes: I was a case study. As a journalist, I am inclined to think that my work has an impact on my communities. But how can I intentionally impact my communities in a positive light, rather than journalism that portrays Black people as criminals or that limits academic credibility to old white men? I am ready to answer these questions.