Note: To enter into the life of your students is always a sacrament, sacred and special. When a teacher is given the opportunity to see his students spread their wings and fly, and take up the cudgels of the bigger, more urgent struggles for human freedom, that teacher must be humbled by this witnessing. I feel this way, even as I put together my hands for Jeffrey Acido, who in his last year the at University of Hawaii where he took up his degree in religion, came into my class armed with all sorts of questions about social, cultural, economic, and linguistic justice. His questions sharpened my way of looking at things that I was not conscious of. In the summer of 2009, Jeffrey will come back to Hawaii from his graduate studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and will begin his journey as advocate of our rights as people of the Ilokano nation. To Jeffrey, we welcome you to this struggle.
A GRADUATE OF COLOR
By Jeffrey Acido
Aloha everyone, as I stand here and look at the proud parents, friends and loved ones I am reminded of my mother. Right now she is working at a hotel in Waikiki, preparing beds and cleaning toilets for the tourists visiting Hawaii. In about an hour, in which she will finish her first shift, she will take an hour-long bus ride to go to her next job, at a local bank, cleaning toilets and cubicles, similar to the offices of our professors.
I stand here before you as a proud son of a Filipina working-class immigrant mother. It is her dedication to her children that have allowed me to go as far as I am now. And yet at times, I feel that I would willingly trade this position for a moment of rest for my mother. It is her dedication to her children that has fueled my dedication for economic justice.
It took my family at least 100 years, starting from my great-grandfather harvesting sugar and pineapple in the plantations of Hawaii to my mother working at a hotel, to see someone in their family graduate with a master’s degree. 100 years of self-deprecation, 100 years of believing that they are not worthy or smart enough to go to school, 100 years of substandard living! 100 YEARS IS TOO LONG TO WAIT! In the words of Rev. Joseph Lowery, a Civil Rights leader, “WAKE UP, YOU CHAPLAINS OF THE COMMOND GOOD!” we must look beyond the walls of our seminaries and get off the Holy Hill and pay attention to those that cannot read our books. Some days I am convinced that the Seminaries and Universities deliberately try to keep people of color out of their classrooms.
We graduates of color have come a long way but never long enough. The work is not over. We are still in process. And we must never stray from the path of our people’s liberation.
I want to reserve a more personal appreciation for my mother when I finally see her in the latter part of the summer.
Right now, I want to thank a brother and a sister, brother Michael James and sister Deborah Lee, together they have profoundly affected my intellectual and spiritual maturity here at the Pacific School of Religion.
I’ve worked closely with Rev. Deborah Lee and despite the many mistakes that I have made never has she scolded me and never was I made to feel inadequate. Her careful
words and poetic sense of justice has showed me a way to create a more just society, a society where everyone counts, no matter what color, and where everyone is not just unique but also a person of consequence. For this I am forever indebted to you.
I have never met anyone who has placed more trust in the wisdom of the community than Michael James. You have taught me a great deal in finding god in the most marginal of places and in the most queerest of moments. The audacity of your words and humility in your actions has shaped the way I better serve the community.
Lastly, I remember filling out the application to apply at the Pacific School of Religion, It asked, “What is your reason for applying to PSR”. I wrote in my letter of statement that I do not yet know what it means to have faith or even what faith means. I said that I wanted to be around people of faith in hope of developing one or at least understand people who have faith. I can honestly say that with your guidance and care I now have at least a sense of lived faith, a faith that allows me to walk in the uncertainties of the future without fear.
Thank you Sister Debbie and Brother Michael for your wisdom and dedication to the larger struggles of the community. May God’s grace make loud those voices that have been silenced. Amen.