Studley Graduate Programs in International Affairs Recognition Ceremony, May 16, 2019
Student Speaker: Clara Marina von Loebenstein Saldarriaga
Good morning. First, I would like to thank GPIA professors, parents, friends, families and of course, my classmates. I could not be standing here today without my parents. Gracias mamá, gracias papá.
Congratulations! We did it. Congratulations to those who worked full or part time jobs during this master’s program. To those who are the first in their family to receive graduate education. To those who raised children. To those who lived far from their families, friends, and communities. To those who completed this degree not in their native language. And to my Muslim brothers and sisters, Ramadan Kareem. Congratulations class of 2019!
Last week someone told me that it’s refugees and migrants that have caused far-right politicians to gain strength all across the world. Look at political figures in Hungary, Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, and the U.S. just to name a few. As students of International Affairs, we not only have to problematize that statement, but we also know that the answers are far more complex. Rather than cause it, refugees and migrants merely bring to light the racism and xenophobia that was already there to begin with. While the incomer is criminalized, racialized, stigmatized, and marginalized, groups band together against the so-called dangerous monstrosity that is the foreigner. Here we have it, the securitization of migration, facilitated by the dehumanization of ‘the other’.
Dehumanization is a process that allows us to dismiss other people’s experiences and deprives them of their human qualities. Dehumanization is the President of the United States calling Mexicans criminals and rapists and mocking the disabled. It’s calling someone ‘illegal’ rather than undocumented. Beyond language and rhetoric, it’s also about practices. It’s what police do when they unlawfully stop, arrest, and murder people of color. It’s cranking up the AC in ICE holding facilities overnight when people have on wet clothing. It’s considering someone a terrorist based on their religion or country of origin. It’s a white doctor never touching a black female patient. It’s valuing life in Israel, but not in Palestine. It’s separating children from their parents and detaining them. It’s letting families drown in the Mediterranean. It’s blaming victims of rape based on their clothing. It’s saying, ‘all lives matter’.
This process overshadows the reasons why people leave their homes. Some flee war, terrorism, violence, insecurity, or lack of subsistence. Others move for economic opportunities or for education. In every story of emigration worldwide, Moms (and Mom figures) just like yours and mine will do the impossible to give their children a better future. I know because my Mom did this for me. My Mom is from a small town in Northern Peru. She survived military dictatorships and terrorist attacks. She and my father left Peru for Germany in the 80s where she not only learned German but also got a master’s degree in the language. Despite her personal successes she was repeatedly targeted by neo-nazis in Munich and was once even physically attacked. We lived in an immigrant neighborhood where the outdoor trash bins were often set on fire by Germans who ensured us we didn’t belong. In the first opportunity she got, my Mom’s career brought us to the U.S. Again, my Mom mastered a new language, got her PhD, beat cancer, and started teaching, literature, her passion, at a prestigious liberal arts college in Vermont. The picturesque small-town experience for My Dad and I is contrasted with random police stops, being told ‘hands up and put them against the wall’ by campus security and being racially profiled for my Mom. These may also be similar to your experiences whether you are an immigrant or not. But for many, including myself, they are not our experiences. Many of us are shielded by our white, CIS, privilege. And depending on what we do with that privilege, it can be dangerously blinding to the internal borders and walls that are being constructed all around us. As an update, my Mom currently lives in Portugal, choosing to be an immigrant once again. Once again, she has learned a new language, and once again, she defines resilience.
As a student of conflict and security, I can’t not talk about migration securitization. So, who here has watched the show Black Mirror on Netflix? Raise your hands. Good. Well, for those of you who haven’t, too bad because I’m about to spoil season 3, episode 5. The episode features a soldier in a dystopian future whose unit is battling monster like creatures, called cockroaches. On a mission, the protagonist kills several cockroaches but is blinded by the green light of a laser that the cockroaches have created as a weapon. In the next mission, a member of his unit begins shooting innocent civilians who he tries to protect, but eventually ends wounded and captured. In prison he finds out that the government has medically implanted a technology into soldier’s eyes that makes a specific ethnic group look like monsters, allowing soldiers to kill them more efficiently and without remorse. Ok, so it’s Netflix and it’s dramatic. But this is what we see every day. Maybe not everyone can see it yet, but at least New School students do. While governments are not medically implanting this into our eyes, they are constructing enemies in less than human frames.
I hope that my words allow you to reflect on your time at the New School. I hope that your studies here created this lens for you and provided you with the tools to acquire your own green laser. I hope that you read about and met people that can stand beside and inspire you to hold the laser – even when it’s scary. As we move forward in our lives and in our careers, I hope that you feel empowered to shine the green laser into people’s eyes – every – opportunity – you – get. Thank you.