In 2009, Christian Diaz left his home in Chicago, Ill., for Warren Wilson College and a setting drastically different from the urban environment in which he was raised.
Diaz, who was born in Mexico and grew up in racially segregated Chicago, credits his time at Warren Wilson as a stark contrast to his upbringing. In particular, the 2012 graduate cites classroom discussions with his white peers as particularly eye-opening.
“I noticed a stark difference in our conceptions of what is ‘normal.’ In my community it’s normal to drop out of high school, to be harassed by police, to end up in prison and for the government to come to your home at four in the morning to take your parents away. It’s not normal to go to college,” he said.
“Being a student at WWC was definitely a privilege that I am appreciative of,” he reflects. “The flip side to that is that I questioned why some people are able to receive such a fabulous education while others are not.”
Growing up in a predominately Latino neighborhood in Chicago, Diaz’s race was rarely discussed. Being exposed to social and cultural differences at Warren Wilson made Diaz more acutely aware of his race, and pushed him to become more involved in advocating for racial justice.
“It was at Warren Wilson that I first met a group of people who were concerned about the precarious living conditions of undocumented immigrants,” he recalls.
Specifically, Diaz credits the service program for introducing him to activism and advocacy work. Through direct service with community centers and schools in the Asheville area, Diaz developed a skill-set for mentoring immigrant youth and tutoring English language learners.
In addition, Diaz cites his coursework in global studies as helpful in utilizing his race as a tool for political change.
“My professors pushed me to think critically about the culture and history; it has given me a powerful lens from which to view the world,” he explains. “I believe that the classes taught me to question ideas that are taken for granted,” he continued.
He adds, “The Triad gave me a holistic educational experience that incorporated creativity, wellness, time management, collaboration with others and strong communication skills, all of which were not necessarily rewarded in Chicago public schools.”
These values are crucial to Diaz’s work as a community organizer with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) where he continues to advocate for racial justice.
Since earning his bachelor’s degree in global studies in 2012, Diaz began working with LSNA’s Immigration Committee, leading a successful voter registration and voter turnout campaigns that targeted infrequent Latino voters during the 2012 election season.
“I led a very successful campaign in my home neighborhood in northwest Chicago, where I registered over 1200 new Latino voters, recruited and trained over 300 volunteers and ultimately increased voter turnout in ten precincts,” he recalls.
Diaz’s successes made a strong impression on the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), who offered Diaz a fellowship coordinating the New Americans Democracy Project—a campaign that promotes the rights of immigrants by mobilizing the immigrant community to vote.
Diaz’s work with LSNA and ICIRR is even more powerful when you consider his status as a lawful permanent resident prevents him from voting. Diaz plans to apply for citizenship in the fall of 2013.
–Nathan Gower ’13