Award-winning journalist, activist and scholar Helen Zia says society labels her as evil for being a minority, a homosexual, a woman and for her stance on human rights. All characteristics, she said, that are being dubbed evil in the existing political atmosphere.
Zia spoke Thursday morning at the Vista Grande Cafe about “Crossing Boundaries: Social Change in the New Millennium,” as part of the “Provocative Perspectives” series presented by the Division of Student Affairs.
A second-generation Chinese-American, she discussed recent social justice issues, particularly the recent immigration debate, in light of history and her own experiences as a minority.
“Diversity is being treated as though it is a problem,” she said. “There is a lot of resistance to what is part of our American history.”
Zia has been a journalist for 20 years, covering Asian-American concerns and social and political movements. She is a former executive editor of Ms. Magazine and coauthor of “Me Versus My Country” with Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee about his experience being falsely accused of espionage. She is recognized for being an outspoken activist on civil rights, women’s issues and homophobia.
She compared contemporary American attitudes toward terrorism and Arab-Americans to past events of persecution, including the witch-hunt trials and Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. She discussed the way society will recognize wrongdoings against marginalized groups, but fail to apply it to modern concerns.
“In museums we pay homage to things, not people,” she said.
She also talked about the effect that euro-centric education has had on society, and the resulting reliance on the media to determine popular perceptions of minorities.
After her speech, she said that people who aren’t exposed to a wide range of ethnic diversity in their immediate communities could expand their views if they are motivated to learn.
“They should seek it out,” she said, “- and don’t be afraid to ask questions, as long as they learn from that.”
Some students who attended the event said they were intrigued by Zia’s experiences and opinions.
Social sciences senior Sarah Reid said she came because she heard about it in her women’s psychology class.
“She touched on some interesting topics,” she said. “It’s very applicable for today with what’s going on.”
Cornel N. Morton, vice president for Student Affairs, said it’s important for speakers like Zia to come to Cal Poly to present a different perspective from what people are used to. He said he appreciates the community for embracing the series of speakers.
“Education should be broad and diverse,” he said. “If we are going to make Cal Poly better, we’re going to have to struggle to discuss these issues.”