Internationally famous poet and novelist Dr. Javier Ávila spoke at Elizabethtown College at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26.
Ávila is also a professor at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His show, titled “The Trouble With My Name” discussed his experience being a Latino living in Pennsylvania.
The event was sponsored by Alyce and Mort Spector. Alyce Spector graduated from the College in 1977. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education.
Spector said that she has had an interest for diversity for a long time and has “always been compelled to do something about it.”
Once she began teaching, she created a program where professionals taught teachers how to handle diversity issues in a classroom. Some of the problems may include racism, hatred, bigotry and violence.
Spector continues to promote the importance of cultural diversity.
“[In] 2017 we need to talk, exchange ideas and learn from each other so that we can solve one problem,” Spector said.
Ávila’s contributions to his students, community and the world have been recognized. He received the 2016 Hispanic Leader of the Year and the 2015 Pennsylvania Professor of the Year Awards. Not only has Ávila won awards pertaining to his teaching and leadership abilities, but also ones that reflect his writing accomplishments.
In 2009, Ávila won the Poetry Award from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, the 2008 Outstanding Latino Cultural Arts, Literary Arts and Publications Award, the 2006 PEN Club Award and the 2005 and 2003 Olga Nolla Poetry Award. He has written 10 books and poetry collections.
“Different,” his most famous novel, was turned into a film production called “Miente.” His most recent book, “Polvo,” was published this year. Ávila’s novels and poems discuss social injustices, illness, love and diversity.
Ávila was born and raised in Puerto Rico. As a child, he believed he was “white.” It was not until he moved to Pennsylvania that people began to label his skin color as “brown.”
As a child, Ávila associated “dark” with “bad.” He thought the only “dark” person in his family was his father. Six-year-old Ávila wrote a card to his father saying, “Daddy, you are dark chocolate, but I love you anyway.”
At a young age, Ávila learned society’s convoluted ideas of what skin color is valued and what is considered undesirable.
Ávila pointed out the picture of himself on an advertisement saying, “The man in the picture is wearing a suit. When he takes the suit off, he can’t hide his identity no matter whether he wants to or not.”
“I went from being the majority to becoming the minority,” Ávila said.
He recognized that it was vital to represent his country in a positive light. Ávila also knew that if he was the only Puerto Rican person someone ever met, they would view his whole country based solely on their perceptions of him.
Since Ávila grew up as the majority and transitioned into the minority as an adult, he had a different viewpoint on people’s lack of cultural knowledge.
“As an educated adult, you find it amusing, but as a child, you think it’s your fault,” he said. Also, many times, people would mispronounce his name.
“Everyday, I take on a new name identity,” Ávila said.
These words from Ávila result from continuous incorrect pronunciations from both his first and last name.
He recounted that he “always wished I had an exotic name. Little did I know that all I had to do was move to PA.”
In Puerto Rico, Ávila was one of four classmates with the same first name. In Pennsylvania, he did not know anyone with the same name.
Ávila recollects that a woman in Pennsylvania corrected the pronunciation of his name. Ávila thought to himself, “How nice of her to teach me how to say my name.”
Ávila wrote ample books and poetry discussing events and experiences that honed in on his personal accounts.
He also wrote about those dear to his heart such as his father, mother and son.
“Live a life honoring your loved ones,” he said.
Ávila wrote poems honoring his father’s memory. His father served in the United States Army in the war against Korea. Despite the fact that his father, a Puerto Rican man, could fight in a war, he could not vote for America’s president.
There was segregation within the U.S. troops. The Puerto Ricans were separated from the other U.S. soldiers.
Ávila’s final words of advice regarding cultural diversity are to remember that “we are better together.”