During a recent road trip from eastern Kansas to the Black Hills, I was reminded again of the vast area that comprises our regional association. As I travelled through the heart of South Dakota on the way there and through southern Nebraska on the way back, I imagined the herds of buffalo and the tribes that inhabited this region for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers and how quickly everything changed for these tribes in less than a century.
At the annual RMASFAA conference last year in beautiful Missoula, Montana, I gave a presentation that focused primarily on the historical and sociological factors that created unique situations for communities of color. For paradigmatic purposes, I focused primarily on the Native-American, African-American, Latin-American and Asian-American communities. I discussed how historical and sociological factors influence members within the communities of color psychologically in terms of self-perception and in their interactions with the individuals outside their community, especially those perceived as more powerful or dominating. Understanding factors that may influence these four communities of color can serve as the starting point to build bridges and produce change. It can also serve as a springboard for understanding other diverse groups.
Those of us who work in financial aid already understand our role in providing access and serving as advocates for all students seeking a post-high school education. Most of us are aware that individuals who form part of these communities of color have unique challenges that may hinder access to higher education.
Understanding the reasons for these challenges begins by better historical understanding, but where do we start? I would recommend starting by reading books on U.S. multicultural history. One that I recommend is Ronald Takaki’s “A Different Mirror—A History of Multicultural America.” Although the book was written nearly twenty years ago, it is still a relevant guide for gaining a historical perspective, covering U.S. multicultural history from the colonial period up to the Los Angeles race riots.
The book focuses on certain Native-American tribes (Choctaw, Cherokee, Sioux, Pawnee, and Navajo), Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Chinese- and Japanese-Americans. Takaki also includes Irish-Americans and Jewish-Americans because he believes these Europeans immigrants faced similar issues to those shared by these other groups.
Takaki writes the book with a compassionate spirit and intersperses historical data with anecdotes and stories that makes the book so compelling that you will find it a good summer read, and it will provide an excellent starting point for you to gain a better historical understanding of multicultural America. If you have a chance to read the book—even a couple of chapters—whether in Omaha for the annual conference in October or through the RMASFAA blog, please let me know your thoughts.
José Trujillo, Financial Aid Counselor, University of Kansas