Roberto Molar Candanosa
Roberto Molar Candanosa, a science reporter at Northeastern, learned English at the age of 15 by translating “Romeo and Juliet” in his Texas high school. “What I do now is translate a language again, but this time it’s the language of research,” he says, adding that becoming a writer was nothing but a privilege. He says racial inequalities in the U.S. are part of an identity problem. “We need to start putting aside all of our individualism and provincialism, and stare at our history—ugly or not—right in the eyes.”
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My name is Roberto Molar Candanosa and this is my voice.
One of the earliest memories I have of this country is my first day of high school in Texas. The teacher, Mr. Yañez, had asked that all of the newcomers, including me, memorize the Pledge of Allegiance. We were to recite it in front of the class. I was 15, and that was 2005. I had grown up so close to the Texas border in Mexico that I was familiar enough with the words. And so, I didn’t struggle much with that assignment. After that day, I almost never thought about it, but now I do. I think about it almost every day of the commitment I was making, but also about this idea of Americanism and American identity that other kids and people face when they move here.
I didn’t particularly love moving to Texas. I didn’t like the school, and the food tasted horrible, and I couldn’t understand my classmates. But one thing I did enjoy was learning the language. I loved that challenge of just looking up the words I didn’t understand, learning how to use them, and asking people to help me put them in perspective. Maybe it was all part of this idea I had of equality—that if I can understand the language, I cannot get left behind. And so that became my thing: words and writing. It was sort of my way of getting to know this country and accept it, and eventually to love it.
Now, I am a full-time science writer here at Northeastern. It’s not different than trying to read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school without knowing English for the first time. What I do now is translate a language again, but this time, it’s the language of research, science, and engineering into something that other people can read and get excited about. Now I am 29, and I have also turned into somebody who knows that the privilege I had was circumstantial, and that kids like me, as well as Black kids, and other minorities don’t always get to be that fortunate. And mostly it’s because of their circumstances, too. But still, I love this country, and because I love this country, I want to talk about the United States, and I want to talk about America. Specifically, I want to offer my perspective as an outsider who is still growing up into this culture.
Here in the U.S., it feels as if we have a problem of identity. We can easily forget that we are a nation of various peoples, but we often buy into this idea of the U.S. being a land of immigrants even when we know that the Wampanoag, the Cherokee, the Nipmuc, all these people have always been here. Black people have always been an integral part of culture, too. But time and time again, they have been oppressed. First with slavery, then with segregation, now with systemic racism. Immigrants, depending on where we come from, have always been vilified. People often forget or simply don’t know, for example, that Mexican-Americans were already here, too—that the border crossed them, that the U.S. took from Mexico what is now California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada. Texas, where I recited the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance for the first time, was once Mexico, too. And now it is not thanks to a war that broke, in part, because of Mexico’s rejection of slavery in Texas by the U.S. settlers. Now, forgetting all that history is an identity problem. It’s also what can confuse some people who don’t recognize that America is not a country, that it is a continent that includes Americans in Mexico, in Peru, in Argentina—obviously here, and Canada, as well.
This identity problem is something that we can fix. But first, we all need to recognize the problem, and know that we easily forget that all of us are the United States of America, and that when we exclude other people, even if it’s unintentionally, it’s never just a matter of racism. It’s a complex matter of microaggressions, and ignorance, discrimination, and misconceptions. It’s a matter of having to unlearn this idea of otherness that people who are not white always get labeled with, and which creeps into all aspects of society—into our schools or churches, in our laboratories—everywhere.
We need to know these things to ensure that we all accept and understand the struggle of being a person who is not white in the U.S., and to understand that right now, what matters is Black lives. We need to start putting aside all of our individualisms and provincialisms, and stare at our history, ugly or not, right in the eye, and learn it, and accept it, and accept the fact that none of the systemic racism and bias that dominates the country is going to be fixed without painful conversations and actions, and that these initiatives must include the voices of the peoples who have always been marginalized. These conversations need to happen with a true understanding of equality and of equity, and a sincere appreciation for the diversity that already makes this country great. And I am ready to have them here at Northeastern if you are, too.