Home Featured News Javier Ávila headlines the final ODEI Latino Heritage Month lecture

Javier Ávila headlines the final ODEI Latino Heritage Month lecture

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(Courtesy Photo/Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)

By Elizabeth Halvorson

Armed with sarcasm and an undying devotion to his Puerto Rican roots, Javier Ávila, an award-winning author, comedian, and host of the nationally acclaimed one-man show, “The Trouble With My Name,” led a virtual lecture Oct. 13 in collaboration with GRCC’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in celebration of Latino Heritage Month.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ávila has taken his life experiences, from growing up with parents who slept in different beds due to his father’s post-traumatic stress from serving in the Korean War, to living as a Latino man in Pennsylvania, and turned them into moving poems. 

Ávila highlighted the need for empathy towards people of different cultures and the harm stereotypes can have on a person’s self-concept in a poem where he recounts his father’s harrowing experience in the Korean War and the lives of other Puerto Ricans that were lost in defense of America.

Reading from his poem titled “Denied Service,” Ávila said, “Should I have told the waitress that having this skin, that white people pay good money for at the tanning salon, is not a crime?That teaching my son, who calls the mainland home, Spanish is not a crime? I cannot remove the stain on his back, nor would I want to, because he is the grandson of Sergeant Ávila, who knew, since he was the same age as this woman, who has already judged me, that there are things in this world that cannot be denied.”

While telling a story of how he was invited to an event after winning a literary award, Ávila explained that while defending his wife’s right to an invitation in her own name, (In Puerto Rico, wives do not typically take the last names of their husbands), he was met with an awkward moment of silence. 

“Every now and then when you stand up for what you believe in, you are going to make the table uncomfortable,” Ávila said before going on to explain that he has no issue with making others’ feel uncomfortable when standing his ground. “You are going to be unpopular. But you do it so they respect you.”

He said, “As you realize, people will take little by little, until they end up taking too much. So you who work in equity and inclusion, I salute you because you are building a cathedral of equity. 

“People who started working on them did not live to see the finished project but they knew that they were working on something larger than themselves. Therefore, they worked with all the passion in the world,” Ávila explained before stressing the importance of embracing your heritage. “When you know your heritage, you know your history and embrace it, you are always rich.”

He then went on to stress the importance of accepting your heritage and never forgetting where you came from, as represented in his poem “Bloodline,” where he recounts the story of his son’s four grandparents and their lives’.

Click here to read Ávila’s work.

The Diversity Lecture Series continues on Oct. 19 with a presentation on “how marginalization undercuts success in STEM through psychological stress, interrupted STEM career trajectories, impostor phenomenon, and other debilitating race-related trauma for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx doctoral students” by Ebony McGee.

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