Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Magali Sanchez dreams of a better world — a world where diversity is cause for celebration, not discrimination.

The second-oldest of seven children in a family of farmworkers, Sanchez often found herself acting as translator for her Spanish-speaking parents when she was growing up.

Sometimes, that meant having to pass on hurtful comments from a medical receptionist or grocery clerk who viewed her family as second-class citizens. She also noticed the toll that field work took on her parents, both physically and emotionally.

"The treatment workers receive, whether you're documented or undocumented, it's basically the same," she said. "I see my parents now and I'm like, wow, you all are aging so quickly."

Sanchez knew she wanted a better life for herself, and she decided that a higher education was the way to get it. Now, after becoming the first member of her family to enter college, she's about to earn a bachelor's degree in ethnic studies with a minor in Spanish from Oregon State University.

She gravitated toward ethnic studies because it was a way to address the discrimination she and her family had to contend with as Hispanic farmworkers.

"They talk about all the things people don't want to talk about," Sanchez explained.

That includes the way public schools tend to gloss over race relations or the treatment of indigenous peoples in history classes, or the small, everyday acts of cultural insensitivity that white, upper-class Americans may unthinkingly commit.

That was part of her own experience, Sanchez said, first in high school and then at Oregon State.

"Being the only person of color in the classroom, people asking about my ethnicity ... It's very uncomfortable to have your identity be questioned all the time," she said.

OSU officials are taking steps to address some of those issues in the wake of widespread dissatisfaction expressed by students of color, and Sanchez gives the university credit for that.

But she also notes that the issues — from unconscious bias to overt bigotry —extend far beyond the Corvallis campus.

"These are societal problems," she said.

And they're not just problems for ethnic, religious and other minority groups, Sanchez said. This kind of social inequity, she believes, has a diminishing effect on every member of society.

"I think it's something that affects all people, not only those in marginalized communities, but those in the privileged community," she said.

Sanchez was something of an activist during her time as an undergrad at OSU, getting involved in various social justice activities on campus. She plans to continue working for social justice after graduation.

To her, it's all part of trying to make the world a better place — for everyone.

"I think it's really hard to imagine what equity will look like when you haven't been in a place where that exists all the time," Sanchez said. "I think we can get to that point, but it's going to take a lot of work to get there."


Load comments