Emma Watson has good intentions, but wasted an opportunity

It was an imperfect speech.

When Emma Watson spoke at the U.N. headquarters a couple of weeks ago in New York City, she announced the launch of HeForShe Campaign, an initiative that “formally” invited men to work for equality of the sexes. It fell short of being revolutionary, game-changing, or, for me, enlightening, and the Internet has then taken the opportunity to disqualify Watson as the “right” person to have been assigned this role by the U.N. But should this discredit Watson from publicly declaring herself a feminist? I don’t think so.

A white, cisgendered, upper-middle class, celebrity is going to speak to the world about oppression? What does she know about struggle? These are among the set of thoughts that are circulating in critique of Watson.

There is no denying her privileged experience. This is well reflected in her failure to acknowledge intersectionalities of feminism during her presentation to some of the most elite leaders of the world. Ms. Watson also recognized her position of privilege during her speech, questioning whether she really qualified to take on such a role. She is well aware of where she stands, and although this does not excuse the weak points of her speech, she did not attempt to present herself as someone who has been the most severely affected by gender inequality. To criticize her on this basis is, therefore, unfair because it is something that she made clear.

Emma Watson during the speech at the U.N. headquarters at NYC

But what about the things she didn’t say? Here is the problem.

Let’s start with the name of the campaign. There’s a he; there’s a she. It grasps solely onto the idea of the binary genders, excluding many folks from the LGBTQ community. This is problematic since she not only said this initiative will invite “both halves” of the world to work together, but also because it now leaves another social issue, the LGBTQ rights movement, in an uncomfortable place to merge with the one at hand, feminism. HeForShe is not as inclusive as it was marketed by Watson, unfortunately.

She also mentions how this campaign will invite men into the feminist movement,  implying that, historically, men have been excluded and not welcome to be a part of it. Now, the general (very, very general) idea of this is good. It asserts that social issues should not only be the headaches of those directly affected. This is similar to how immigrant rights groups argue that immigration reform is not just a Latino problem, abortion is not just a women problem, and low wages are not only a fast-food worker battle.

However, these arguments are not on the basis that the invitation has not been extended to the unaffected groups like Watson is presenting for HeForShe. Activists push for the non-affected groups to join the battle because, typically, they will remain apathetic and unmoved by the topic, not because there is an unwelcoming atmosphere to join the movement. The victim does not have a responsibility or obligation to gently let the aggressor know they are wrong or be mindful of the aggressor’s feelings. Regrettably, Watson’s language expresses too much undeserved sensitivity to what our poor, poor men must feel like being left out of the feminist movement. Don’t ask for permission, Watson. Demand change.

While I am a fan of Watson, and a dedicated enough fan that I deemed this disclaimer necessary, this is one opportunity that was not taken advantage of appropriately. There was no clear call to action and how the “he” part of this will stop oppressing the “she,” and it was not aggressive enough to intimidate the enemy. However, it would be wrong rule Watson as a disqualified player based on this one weak use of rhetoric.

HeForShe has all the good intentions. Now, all it needs to some good readjustments and attitude.

This article was first posted  on The Suffolk Journal.

Urban Outfitters: vintage, vinyl, and vanity

Sexy. Hip. Vintage. Unique. A shining retail store upon a hill. At the cost of attempting to turn young hipsters into acculturated, enlightened individuals across the western world, Urban Outfitters has faced numerous lawsuits and short-lived media scandals due to their fearless (read: tasteless) ways of alluding to painful moments in human history via hoodies and crop tops. As stated on their company profile, they aim for their designs to “resonate with the target audience,” and hell yes they do.

Let’s start in 2012 when UO was selling a yellow $100 T-shirt with a design that closely resembled the Star of David located on the left side of the chest area. The design made headlines as the Anti-Defamation League condemned the design as “extremely distasteful and offensive” in an email sent to the retail company, according to ABC News, as it had the look of what Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi Regime. The store apologized for how the item was “perceived,” which to me smells something like, “Sorry if the mass murder of millions of people still offends you.”

The T-shirt came out just months after UO launched a “Navajo” line of items, including a “Navajo Hipster Panty,” as reported by ABC. The Navajo Nation sued the company and asked them to stop using their trademark to create mock jewelry and clothing that poorly resembled their tribe. The items were not taken down, so consumers were able to purchase small dreamcatchers, amongst other items, made with the mundane hands of UO designers.

This year alone, the store has released several products that “resonate with the target audience” a little too loudly, starting with a crop top that had the word “depression” printed on the front side of it in different sizes, as reported on Buzzfeed.

Twitter users were quick to react to this, making comparisons to a former design by UO of a v-neck with the words “eat less” printed on it. It is as if the fashion industry needed a reminder of the unnatural motto one must abide by to aspire to be a model for most retail companies.

But I suppose if you have ever dreamed of looking hip while simultaneously representing a few major illnesses that plague our generation, UO gives you the opportunity to do so.

Their latest great idea was a pink sweater with the logo of Kent State University in Ohio. It was marketed as vintage, a one of a kind (allegedly, there was literally only one of these available), so the deal  was a  “get it or regret it” sensation.

vintage-kent-state

Much to the dismay of the designer that must have spent days and pounds of creativity on how the meaningless red splatters of paint would give it the perfect vintage look, the splatters ended up looking like blood stains, taking people back to the disastrous 1970 massacre that happened at the university.

Kent State released a statement on the sweater, judging it “beyond poor taste” that “trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community,” according to The Washington Post. UO, once again, “sincerely” apologized that this item was “perceived negatively,” as if there is any other way to perceive a $120 awful-looking sweater that alludes to our National Guard’s pitiful excuse that their lives were in danger in the presence of an unarmed student protest.

Forgive us, Urban Outfitters, we will do our best to amend our perceptions and interpretation skills.

To be a supporter of UO and rock their faded jeans and v-necks while listening to Bob Dylan means to have truly accepted their X number of apologies (it’s hard to keep an accurate number).

To continue shopping from them and remaining silent about insensitivity is to stand by their statements that their clearly offensive material is open for interpretation, setting the idea that our society’s ideals should cater to publicity stunts masked as some designer’s sudden bursts of creativity.

I was pleased when UO announced to USA TODAY that they will be destroying the sweater. Hopefully, they will soon do the same to their shameless business model, too.

This article was first published by The Suffolk Journal.

Man-made borders and bullets that slip through: A reflection from a Mexican-American student

This article was first published by The Suffolk Journal.

Photo by David Alvarado

Photo by David Alvarado

Borders are made to divide things and to control things. There are also natural boundaries, such as mountains and oceans, that centuries ago kept our ancestors in different regions separated from each other until we invented ways to climb, float, and fly beyond our mere human abilities. But the division of property became an essential part of our civilization as we know it, and our rivers and nature could not satisfy the heavy need to have clear separation between my property and yours, your people and mine. At the U.S. and Mexico border, lines have been shifted, leaving people from one side forced onto the other for centuries by claims of territory supported by military victories. This creates deep divisions between two governments, two peoples and two histories.

The Department of Homeland Security struggles to enforce the 1,954 mile Mexican-American border. While only a river that even the most inexperienced swimmer can cross without much struggle separates the two countries, it has always stunned me how much of a difference a limited steel fence can make when determining the lives of the people who live on either side. Perhaps man-made borders are some of the most powerful things in our world, as they have the ability to end the practice of constitutions and power of governments. But not everything can be kept from seeping through its cracks and from creating unbreakable ties between the two sides.

According to the New York Times, a total of 47,515 people have been “killed in drug related violence” in a span of six years. Imagine experiencing September 11 yearly. How about two brothers bombing innocent civilians at events and gatherings every day? I am not one to say that because there are more tragedies happening in one place that we should undermine the lesser ones, but I have a conflict with the unequal and unbalanced share of international, media, and philanthropic attention between the two. Is it because one country will fall from its position of power and prestige while the other one will simply join its Latin American neighbors in the violence? Is it to keep the status-quo?Having grown up in Mission, a city in South Texas, the border never seemed like a big deal or something to be feared. My family would cross it weekly to visit relatives, shop or dine in Mexico. Those trips came to an abrupt end around 2010 when the violence in our neighboring country grew too chaotic for our comfort, and the chaos has seemed to increase at an unbelievable rate ever since. The same cities that were casual vacation spots became as dangerous as war zones. Suddenly the Mexican-American border no longer divided two governments,  rather one country that is dubbed “the land of opportunity” and another that is home to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of most powerful drug and crime syndicates in the world. Life and death, if you will.

According to a 2013 Business Insider article, 19 of the top 20 most dangerous cities of the world are in Latin America (17th place was New Orleans), and six are in Mexico, with Acapulco ranked second place. Two of the Mexican cities featured in the article, Nuevo Laredo and  Juarez, lie directly on the border. In 2010,  The New York Times reported that civilian deaths from violence in Venezuela were almost four times as high as those in Iraq, and Mexican cities ranked above Venezuelan ones as reported by the Business insider. And yet, the U.S. government’s efforts are often centered in regions that are half a world away, as almost our entire hemisphere suffers from the greatest violence.

One of the biggest hubs of violence against women in Mexico are for those who work in maquiladoras, or factories, that are commonly placed along the border for easier trade. As Ed Vulliamy, author of Amexica: War Along the Borderline, describes, many of these women leave their homes before the sun rises and return at night, leaving them in vulnerable situations to be kidnapped, raped, and to never deserve a solved investigation from the Mexican authorities.

Although in the U.S. women do not live free of these fears, it is insane to think how much safer one can feel living on “this side” of that border. I have been to houses that are less than two miles away from the Rio Grande, a short five-minute drive, a walk that is comparable to my walk between the residence hall at Suffolk and my classes throughout the day. There are women, many my age, who live in fear for their lives just that small distance from my hometown, who walk to work to earn inhumanely low wages making electronics, clothing, and other luxuries for the U.S. These women, and some men, of course, are making these material things that are such an essential part of that “American Dream” but, to many, a Mexican Nightmare. My luxuries and comforts are someone else’s involuntary sacrifices, someone else’s hell, and only a man defined border separates us. My people, forgive me.

This leads me to call for certain things.

I call for a reevaluation of the things the U.S. government promotes domestically, such as with issues of gun control and legalization of certain drugs, but condemns in foreign territories. When, as a country, you are the biggest source of customers for the long-fought drug war, a hypocritical approach is meaningless and a crime against the rights of our Mexican people.

I advocate for the awareness that a tragedy in one place perpetuates violence in all others, and if measured by proximity, the U.S. is in great danger.

Lastly, I call for a collective consciousness that we cannot close ourselves to the pain that other beings are experiencing for the sake of an imperfect sensation of peace in our own homes. We can persuade and fool our living citizens, but not those who have been killed by this violence. Call this out of our league, but I am a firm believer that before we can experience a social change, an internal revolution in the minds and souls of our citizens must take place.

As Americans, we should value our lives, our material things, and the laws and liberties that allow us to keep them, and remember that borders can separate our constitutions, but they will never separate our consciousness.

Harvard hosts Latino law, policy, and business conference, inspires youth

This was first published at The Suffolk Journal.

The numbers are on our side. The future is on our side, but what are numbers without action to shape the future? In a two-day conference April 4 – 5, Harvard Law school hosted its seventeenth annual Latino Law, Policy, and Business Conference to present a program that inspired students, speakers, and panelists that traveled across the nation to go “from vision into action” for Latinos in the U.S.

Monika Mantilla, President and CEO of Altura Capital Group, was the first keynote speaker to address the audience on the night of April 4. ACG is an organization that aids small businesses and companies in debt, focusing primarily on the ones owned by minority groups. Master of Ceremonies Fernando Duran, invited guests to share their thoughts on her message the following morning.

“Sometimes Latinas think we can’t have it all, but we can,” an audience member from Lubbock, Texas said.

Founder of popular magazine People en Español and present Chief Diversity Officer of Time Warner Inc., Lisa Garcia Quiroz shared her journey and projects to increase Latino exposure in the media and the future of media.

Prior to the launch of People, there were no major publications in the U.S. that centered on Latinos that lived in the country. Quiroz emphasized that although the magazine has been critiqued to only show celebrities and Hollywood events to truly represent the entire Latino community in the nation, People showed that there was influence by people from Latin America in our culture and helped them be recognized.

As for the future of media, Quiroz acknowledged that the context of media has been changing rapidly in the past years, now being almost entirely digital.

“Our biggest competitors are no longer companies like ABC News, but Netflix and YouTube,” she said.

She wrapped up her speech by addressing the power the youth will have in influencing and controlling the media in the future, and asked the audience, mostly composed of students, to use that to help diversity and minority communities in the U.S.

“Tapping into the Hispanic Market” was a session with panelists whose expertise centered on small and nationwide businesses. The discussion pointed out how in today’s efforts for companies to market to Latino families whose children have been born or raised in the U.S., major challenges and questions have come to light.

Panelist David Wellisch, co-founder of Latinum Network, described young Latinos in the U.S. who are bicultural and bilingual as the people with “most potential” for marketing, but also the most difficult to figure out because of the education and acculturation difference between them and their parents.

Ana Recio Harvey, Managing Partner of a bank advisory group and 2009 appointee by President Obama as assistant administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Women’s Business Ownership, said that one of the biggest challenges from immigrants in U.S. to start and keep their businesses thriving is the lack of education on the laws and rules.

She later added that the error of many marketing strategies aimed at Latinos are not designed to appropriately accommodate their needs.

“Tap into the Hispanic market not to make money, tap into the market to create wealth to help make the people your clients.”

Other sessions included topics such as civic leadership, a leadership workshop for Latinas, how to “assert” one’s Latino identity, and immigration action, where United We Dream Board Chair Sofia Campos led a passionate discussion on immigration reform and the action we can take today.

To get view more comments, quotes, and insight from guests at the conference, search the trends #SinLimites and #LatinoConf on Twitter.

Boston Marathon: The Historic Run

This was first published at The Suffolk Journal.

“The early morning trains to Ashland carried hundreds of spectators who wished to see the start of the great race,” read The Boston Globe’s article on the first marathon held in the city in 1897.

Over a century later, this description still stands for spectators and runners from all over the world that come to celebrate the historical event.

With the Boston Harbor under high risk of being attacked by Germany during World War I, all sporting events in the area were suddenly subject to cancellation, the marathon being one of them, according to The Globe. However, citizens spoke up and said that to host the marathon, even with the risk, was to make a statement with Greek military history marathons have of victory. The marathon was held, and an American won the race that year.

(Photo by Flickr user Wally Gobetz)

The same happened during World War II and the Vietnam War as runners and visitors filled the Boston streets to witness the grand race. In 1942, an American named Joe Smith was the winner of the marathon. Smith enlisted in the military less than 24 hours after he crossed the finish line.

The race has evolved since then, its finish line being changed more than once and distance increase by about one mile. No longer do less than 50 men run in thin, dirt tracks, but now hundreds gather in carefully arranged and scheduled areas to be transported to the start line, and runners even have an app where they can “meet” other participants in the race.

Needless to say, last year’s race forced the city to make changes, but for the first time the risk that they fear is domestic, rather than an attack from Germany as in earlier times. For this year’s marathon, strict security measures have been put into place, restricting the size of bags and items that are allowed in the areas that has been specially marked off for the race. Not surprisingly, the number of people who tried to register to the event was at a record high, as BAA.org reported.

Additionally, online campaigns and famous photographers have shared powerful images of people who were affected by last year’s tragedy to display that they are still standing strong, Boston Strong.” Although it is not uncommon for runners to represent charities or causes in the race, a special organization by former Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick called “One Fund” was founded just days after last year’s marathon. All proceeds, which were over $60 million in the first 75 days according to the official One Fund website, were used to help citizens who were affected.

Over one hundred races have passed, and thousands of runners representing the world have run the streets of Boston since this race has first held. Different years bring different worries, different obstacles, and different runners. Only one year has passed since the marathon was attacked, but over a century has passed that the fans and athletes of the race have pushed through hardship, attended despite possible risks, and participated to keep the traditional event going. There will be more than one winner this year: the brave returning runners, the person who finishes the race first, those who were affected and their relatives, and the city of Boston.

Senator Warren denounces government profit on student loans

This was first published at The Suffolk Journal.

In the list of heaviest burdens for college students and graduates, paying back student loans is at the top as young Americans leave higher education with a degree and tens of thousands of dollars in debt. In a multi-day conference at Suffolk University’s Law School, Senator Elizabeth Warren discussed the factors that take part in the billions of dollars that student debt accounts for in the U.S. and proposed solutions to stop government profits on these loans and protect borrowers from sinking under the burden alone.

“You could take down a list of protections available to mortgage borrowers,” Warren said, “none of them are available for student loan borrowers. Congress has stripped away bankruptcy protection from both federal and private student loans. Borrowers cannot discharge debt unless under the most extreme of circumstances,” Warren said.

For those struggling with student loan repayments, there are no options that will grant any form of “relief” from their debt, leaving them to face years of the federal government demanding unrealistic payments in their conditions.

“The outstanding student loan debt right now is $1.2 trillion,” Warren said Friday. “The average debt for those who get a bachelor’s degree is $29,000.” Graduate school borrowers see even higher numbers.

(Photo courtesy of Suffolk University)
“This is crushing our young people. More than a third of borrowers under the age of 30 have been delinquent for more than 90 days,” the Senator said.

Warren explained that this has impacted our economy in that young Americans and recent college graduates are not buying homes or taking part in activities expected by the government to stimulate the economy.

“Tying students to a lifetime financial servitude as a condition of getting an education does not reflect our values,” Warren said. “These students didn’t go to the mall and make a bunch of charges on credit cards. They worked hard to earn skills that would benefit this country, to help build a stronger middle class, and a stronger America.”

Reports by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shared that in loans borrowed from 2007 to 2012, the government will make at least $66 billion in profit. Warren said that a department of education official “confirmed that when the government generates profit from student loans, those profits don’t get funneled into other student aid.”

Warren said that the most efficient way to reverse the damage of student debt is to lower the cost of education.

“To reverse the trend of student borrowing we need to lower the cost of college. That’s where it all starts. We should start by restoring the traditional role of public higher education as a high quality, affordable option for all families.”

Warren has called for a complete stop to profiting from student loans. Along with that, she is pushing for “bankruptcy protection to be reinstated,” and for a shared responsibility between the college and the student when struggling to pay back the loans.

“When students default, they feel the pain, and so do the taxpayers who may ultimately have to pick up the bill. Colleges should feel some of that pain, too, and it should affect the colleges who are taking on a lot of students who are not repaying their debts.”

Her final proposal was for the government to bring the funds back into the “pockets of the borrowers” and not for general government funding as it is currently.

“The idea that we would allow the federal student loan program to generate funds for the government is obscene. These students deserve our support. Not an extra tax when they’re trying to get an education.”

Use of ‘apps’ by our generation debated by world renowned authors

This was first posted at The Suffolk Journal.

The Cambridge Forum hosted a discussion about “The App Generation,” a book by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis on their research of how technology has changed young people.

Over the last seven years, Gardner and Davis held hundreds of interviews with adolescents, students, and professionals to collect information on the relationship between the digital world and their lives.

Gardner is a professor at Harvard University, where he studied as well. “The App Generation” is Gardner’s 29th published novel, and his works have been translated to over 30 languages. Recognized for his theory of “Multiple Intelligence,” he has twice been named one of the top 100 most influential public intellectuals worldwide.

Katie Davis is an assistant professor at University of Washington, where she studies the role of digital technology in adolescents’ lives. Davis also works for MTV ‘s “Digital Abuse Campaign.” Both authors worked for Harvard’s “Project Zero,” where they collected the research used for their book.

“It is our argument in the book that young people today are not just immersed in apps,” Davis said, “but that they have come to see their world as a collection of apps, and in fact their lives as a string of ordered apps. We explore the idea of ‘app mentality.’”

Two terms coined by Gardner and Davis are “app-enabled” and “app-dependent” to describe how people use these mobile applications daily. App-enabled is for those who use them to enhance their daily lives, such as using productivity apps to keep in mind tasks. A dependency is created when individuals begin to replace face-to-face interactions with solely social media communication to talk to friends and family. An app-dependent person may also overuse them in hopes to express themselves, rather than taking action in “real life.”

“We use the term ‘app-directed’ for kids today,” Gardner said. “Rather than looking at the past, kids are just spending their time looking at their devices when they could be looking inside themselves or things other people are doing. We also focused on crises faced by young people as they are coming to age.” Gardner and Davis explored psychologist Erik Erikson’s theories of identity crisis, intimacy versus isolation, and generativity versus isolation.

Their research began by interviewing teachers and asking them how they have witnessed their students change over time. Gardner and Davis found that technology was almost always a part of their answers. They then interviewed focus groups, such as camp directors, art teachers, and a group of psychoanalysts. The information they gathered was from about 100 adults and over 2,000 adolescents. Artistic projects from current students were also compared to one from previous years to note if there was any change Gardner and Davis used three domains (or ‘I’s’) to discuss their research: identity, intimacy, and imagination.

“Identities that people seek today are increasingly external oriented,” Davis said. “They spend a tremendous amount of time crafting and creating a desirable image of themselves that is orientated to particular audiences, both real and imagined.” She compared this sort of act of “branding oneself” to how apps use certain logos and images to appeal to users.

“One effect of this is the diminishing of internal life. That is the reflection of our feelings, personal values, goals, and desires in life.”

For intimacy, they found although social networks keep an organized list of all your “friends” and therefore may increase interactions, young people usually don’t tend to have deep, personal relationships with a number comparable to their followers on Twitter or Facebook. The Internet has provided a way to express your thoughts without having to face people directly, reducing one’s vulnerability.

“The danger of this is when apps are used to replace personal relationships rather than augmenting them,” Davis said.

From the millions of apps available for download, many are geared to allow people to create art. However, Gardner and Davis question how much this stimulates creativity, as ones “imagination” is limited to the certain color palettes, filters, brushes, and other options that the app designer programmed.

From all this, Gardner explained that they came up with the term “superapp,” which stems from people’s idea that life should contain shortcuts and be as ordered as the activities they perform through their digital devices.

“There is a tendency to think of life nowadays that it is one ordered step after another,” he said. “It would be wrong to pin this down on digital media, and it certainly isn’t unique to our time, but if you think of your daily life as being a series of apps, it is more difficult to think of a life decision as being of a different flavor.”