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President Pedraja's Keynote Address Offers Insights on Systemic Racism and the Latinx Community During Hispanic Heritage Month

October 2021
  • QCC's President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.
    QCC's President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D.

Quinsigamond Community College President Luis G. Pedraja, Ph.D. was the keynote speaker at The UMass Chan Medical School and the Diversity & Inclusion Office celebration of “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” The event was in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and encouraged people to acknowledge, honor, and reflect upon the contributions Hispanics have made in the past and will continue to make in the future to the United States in general, but also in their own communities.

A vocal advocate for the Latinx community, Dr. Pedraja focused his keynote address on the other pandemic – Systemic Racism and the Latinx Community.

“We cannot look at the future without recognizing the brokenness of the past,” he said, noting the hateful discourse and violence that is perpetrated against brown and black populations, while acknowledging that racial violence was exacerbated during the pandemic.

Dr. Pedraja spoke candidly of his own personal challenges as a Latino male living in a country where the disparities of life didn’t end when he came to the U.S. from Cuba as a young boy with his parents, and moved into a low-income inner-city Miami neighborhood. He told of the importance of education, instilled in him by his parents, who told him that education was the one thing that could never be taken away from him. This resonated with him, as everything he had was left behind when he came from Cuba to the U.S. 

“I faced challenges in my own country and I encountered other challenges here,” he said.

Those challenges included an inadequate healthcare system and a school where his teachers did not understand him and he could not understand them.

“I struggled. I thought America was a mythical place across the water,” he said. “I came here belonging and not belonging.”

Dr. Pedraja persevered and went on to college where he was still an outsider. He even found himself being taunted by fellow students because of his name.

“It wears on you. Your name is your sense of identity. They made up stuff and made fun of my name. I struggled fitting in and making it through,” Dr. Pedraja continued.

He addressed the importance of a name and how often those of Latinx heritage are given the name Hispanic, Chicano, Latino or Latina, without allowing people to claim their own identity.

“Whenever in doubt use a more inclusive term,” he said. “When you think of Latinx you cannot see us in a monolithic way. We are an ethnicity that includes White, Black, Asian and Indigenous people. We are not the same and we don’t fit the traditional paradigm.”

As of July 1, 2019, people of Hispanic origin make up the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. Hispanics constituted 18.5% of the nation’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet in Massachusetts, the gap in educational attainment between white females and Latinx males is over 40% according to the Massachusetts Bureau of Higher Education, a statistic that demonstrates the racial disparities that continue to exist.

Dr. Pedraja described the Latinx population as one that still “lives in the hyphen.”

“We live in the middle and are excluded by everyone. Latinx are hidden from race discourse and it’s hard to find a seat at the table,” he continued. “Socio-economic and racial issues affect who we are and it also kills us slowly – the lack of healthcare, quality education and resources. It affects all of us. We need to stop thinking it’s a zero-sum game. It has to be a rising tide that moves all ships.”

Today, as a college president, Dr. Pedraja is a model of success for the Latinx community and the students he now oversees at QCC. He said he sees hope for the future as the failures of our collective past are brought to light.

“We’ve become more aware and are willing to work with renewed advocacy. The complacency of the post-racial America myth is gone and that gives me hope,” he said. “We must educate ourselves, engage in open dialogue, educate others, be inclusive in all that we say and do, and seek opportunities that will help remove the barriers that exist in our society. By speaking up and taking action we can change the future.”