By Julia Meehan
The College welcomed author, poet and 2015 Pennsylvania Professor of the Year Javier Avila to the Library Auditorium on Oct. 16, where he performed his one-man show, “The Trouble With My Name,” for students and faculty.
This event rounded out the College’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and was arranged in part by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The talk revolved around Avila’s experience after he moved from Puerto Rico to Pennsylvania and the path that led him to his successes.
“I was not a minority until I was 31 years old,” Avila said. “Suddenly I have to prove to others that I am not a stereotype.”
Avila’s one-man-show included stories from his childhood in Puerto Rico and adulthood in the U.S., as well as readings from his poetry collection, “The Trouble With My Name,” which was published in 2017. His event also showcased several props that ranged from a photo of his mother to a container of Vicks Vapor Rub, which his grandmother insisted was a cure-all.
He spoke about the harmful effects of stereotyping, including a time when his new neighbor mistakenly identified him as the house’s landscaper and not its owner. In response, Avila wrote up a fake estimate for work on his neighbor’s yard and played along as a landscaper until the neighbor insisted that his price was too high. After this exchange, he didn’t speak to his neighbor for nine years.
“You have to be willing to lose friends in order to make a point,” Avila said. “You have to be willing to make people uncomfortable to make a point.”
During his accounts of his childhood, he told stories of his grandmother, a 4 foot 11 inch woman who barely had any teeth, and who was also on an FBI Watchlist because she liked to cook for “rebels” who wanted freedom for Puerto Rico. He spoke volumes of her cooking and said he frequently visits a Puerto Rican restaurant in Pennsylvania because the smell transports him back to his grandmother’s kitchen.
Another prevalent theme of his talk was the idea of rejecting hatred and working towards social equality and equity.
“You might not live to see the finished product, but that doesn’t mean you don’t work towards it,” Avila said. “All of us must educate others. It is our duty as citizens. It is our duty as the generations that want equity.”
Avila also spoke against the trend of romanticizing the past.
“Whenever someone talks about the good old days, you have to wonder,” he said. “The good old days don’t include most of the people in this room.”
He condemned the mindset of many of the people in power, such as lawmakers, from the 1950s to the 1970s.
“They have been taught to hate and this kind of hate is very hard to take away,” Avilla said.
Avila also urged students not to be apathetic and to be bold in everything they do. He finished the talk by looking forward to the future through his son and the genuinely colorblind way he thinks about the world.
“Why do these kids know something I’ve been trying to teach adults for 20 years?” he asked.