Where My Bread Is Buttered

Jose Vilson Jose

This weekend, I spent time in Syracuse University, my alma mater and the site of Coming Back Together X, a special reunion where the African-American and Latino alumni of Syracuse U can meet with students and faculty on campus every three years in the spirit of camaraderie, growth, and opportunity. This tradition has happened for the last three decades and change, illuminating an illustrious history of people that includes Dave Bing, Jim Brown, Angela Robinson, and Debra Mercado, just to name a few. When I get there, I’m among the few people representing the Millenials (’00 and up), but through the extensive research I did as an undergrad, I was able to contribute and provide context for histories about the campus that let me fit in with the elder statesman there.

As I reminisced on my days as Education Chair of La LUCHA (the premiere Latino organization on campus), I thought about how some of the things we did for the organization that made it as effective as it was. I had my set of issues, but I believe the positive outweighed the negative. If there’s one thing I missed in this list, it’s that our organization collaborated with almost everyone. Despite my personal feelings at the time about Greek-based organizations or parties as a whole, I knew that I had to find common bonds between everyone who walked through the door.

La LUCHA’s main purpose in my era was service to the people, no matter what the cost. We almost felt bad for trying to raise funds or make people pay at the door, so just breaking even was good enough for us. We collaborated with administrative offices, sororities, fraternities, the LGBT group, groups of all colors, and community members. We brought customers to new Latin restaurants and made our presence felt where otherwise we wouldn’t have been welcome. We secretly asked where our constituency was, but we publicly acted like they were already there. By the time we brought Edward James Olmos to campus with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, we had a full executive board brimming with ideas, hopes, optimism, and leadership in their own right.

We didn’t see the empty seats as a diss, but as an opportunity.

As a young student at Syracuse U, I didn’t see all this because, mentally, I rejected some of the notions promoted by my fellow students about their organizations. Every so often, I betrayed my own ideals by snickering when I heard things I didn’t like. The organization’s mission was much bigger than my ego, though. It had less to do with my own point of view about what Latinos should do, and more about what we can do. As a student, Coming Back Together 7 enlightened me on the power of knowing one’s history and the context in which our greatest student organizations worked. Time and again, they would look at us and ask questions that sparked a shift in how we brought people under our umbrella.

Now, I look at the students leading the organizations I was part of. Where once I might have seen a deficit in our socio-political action, I now see a profit in culture and rhythm. No matter what your inclination, finding common ground with others opens doors unseen with the inexperienced eye.

Mr. Vilson, who has big things poppin’ …