MIFFLINTOWN - The cycle of hate experienced by the United States may stem from the inability of people to recognize that they are all alike, regardless of race, language and personality. What sets people apart are their actions and the behavior they show toward their fellow countrymen in the face of bullying and racism amidst a diverse environment.
In her senior project presentation, Juniata High School student Beatriz Montesino spoke to sophomores and juniors about the consequences and reasons for racism and bullying throughout the U.S., during an assembly Friday at the school.
When deciding on the subject of her senior project, she tried to chose a unique topic that was understandable to students and was worth dedicating at least 50 hours of work toward. Her idea to form an assembly on bullying and racism stemmed from her experiences as a student at the high school. As the daughter of first generation immigrants, Montesino has witnessed racism and discrimination through the eyes of a child. She felt that she was not welcome in the predominately white school as a Latino, feeling her voice was unheard by other students, teachers and faculty. An aspiring doctor, she tires to take the hardest classes she can to challenge herself, despite the lack of faith showed by others toward her ambitions.
"I was told I wouldn't make it were I wanted to go to college," Montesino said.
"When I found that other Hispanics within Juniata High School were experiencing the same thing, I wanted to show my peers what we are going through."
With the mission of making her topic have more impact on students by coming from a girl their own age, 17-year-old Montesino began the assembly by talking about how the various freedoms appreciated in this country come at a cost. In an effort to express how important freedom is to those who protect it, she went on to explain her stance on this issue by relating to the ideals of equality preached by Dr. Martin Luther King.
"Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream," Montesino said, "I have a dream that one day, people will realize our freedom comes at a price.
She said people spend too much time causing risk to our freedom through racism and bullying, given what this nation has experienced historically to gain that freedom.
Montesino went on to say that "at the time that America was created, everyone was an immigrant. Everyone spoke a different language. Everyone learned to adapt and accept the cultures of another. So then where did the downfall begin?"
Using a slide show with accompanying music, Montesino spoke on the different effects bulling and racism have on a person, how to stop it, and how to move on after suffering from its effects. A key issue Montesino pointed out was how the issues of racism and bullying are interrelated.
"Recognize the consequences of your actions, don't be ignorant, and open your eyes to peoples' hurt," she said.
Montesino presented a video by Facebook sensation and author Amanda Todd, in which she told of her struggle with bullying from her peers at a young age after her father committed suicide. In high school, the teenager was told that her father had killed himself because she was born.
To further support her arguments, Montesino introduced three key speakers who spoke to students about their personal experiences relating to bullying and racism and how combating the negative effects of these problems promotes a positive atmosphere for the community and promotes change for demographics of the surrounding area.
Christian hip-hop artist Isaac Hassinger, also known as Appollo J., was the first speaker. The musician performs at concerts, using the stage as an outlet to speak to others. Hassinger sang an inspirational song during Montesino's assembly.
Hassinger said that the words of his song, "To Write Love," were about a female friend who began to cut herself as a result of a close friend committing suicide following an argument they had.
As applause erupted from the audience after Hassinger's musical performance, Montesino introduced Juniata County Commissioner Teresa O'Neal to speak on the positive aspects of diversity in the community and Juniata County demographics.
Presenting students with a unique opportunity to learn about the population within their county, O'Neal explained that Juniata County will continue to grow and change as it becomes more diverse. She believes that diversity is something to be positive about and excited for. She said every minute of every day is an opportunity to make choices on how to interact with others.
"Diversity is not just about what we look like... it is about who we are," said O'Neal.
O'Neal said the 2010 Census shows that Juniata County has grown to a population of 24,636. This means that the area has experiences an 8-percent growth since the year 2000.
In her closing statements, O'Neal said that diversity is such a benefit for any community, and without it, growth would not be possible. O'Neal's hope for students is that in the future, they do not look back on their pasts and realize that they missed out on opportunities to learn about others.
"I'd like to challenge each and every one of you to leave each day, reaching out to learn about other students in order to help grow and shape you," said O'Neal.
The third speaker beamed at students as he took the microphone from Montesino, Former Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes spoke about his personal experienced with bullying, racism and discrimination.
Raised by a single mother with an 8th grade education, Cortes relates closely with the struggles of being accepted as a Latino in the United States.
"She taught me that education was important," Cortes said.
"She understood that the true value of being successful was to get a good education and to be a good person; have a good heart and treat everyone else with dignity and respect."
Cortes believes that all humans should treat everyone the way they would want to be treated. He also communicated, in combination with O'Neal's facts about the population of Juniata County, that in the Census, out of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, Juniata County has experienced the largest growth in Latino populations, with a growth rate of 600 percent. In fact, the United States as a whole is the second most Spanish speaking country in the world.
"There should be no room for racism, hate or bullying," Cortes said.
Before the assembly, Cortes explained his reasoning behind appearing on behalf of Montesino's presentation. Having a strong commitment to education, Cortes recognizes the great potential in Juniata County students, including Latinos, after visiting the area for the last 15 years. After hearing about Montesino's presentation, Cortes said he was delighted to participate.
When asked why he felt obligated to speak out on the issue of bullying and racism in schools, Cortes said, "It is my duty and privilege to be able to share my thoughts with these students."
Montesino ended the assembly by thanking friends and family who stood by her and helped put together the assembly to share with students. She said she believes that it is because of the loved ones she has around her that she had the courage to step forward and share her story with others.
In a moment of reflection, Montesino said, "Even if I have not made a difference, I know someone out there can relate."
The reaction to the assembly could be heard far out into the hallways of school as students, faculty and teachers gave the honors student a standing ovation, offering up applause and whistles in recognition of her hard work.
In a phone interview prior to Montesino's assembly, O'Neal said,"I am so impressed with her [Montesino] as a young lady who has recognized a concern in the community and tackled it."
"To be able to support a young woman who has addressed a need in her community is delighting.This is a positive opportunity for students to grasp an understanding and learn about what is around you."