by Marina Tinone
photo for Down Magazine by Matthew Thekkethala
On September 23, I met with John Lugo, an organizer for Unidad Latina en Accion. While ULA and its supporters participated in their weekly protest outside Calhoun College the college in question, Mr. Lugo took the time to share his thoughts on the current situation, Yale students, and the New Haven community at large.
In regards to last year– what made you want to start and then continue your work protesting here?
This is the first time when I feel like somebody’s getting affected in this college. We had known that a group of students had been asking the university to change the name. Even on May 1, we participated with the students on the May Day march, and we started in front of Calhoun College as a community and as students to change this college.
Then, in April, they announced they were not going to change the name. In June and July, we heard what happened with Corey Menafee,who is a member of our community, and we decided to take action…We said well, we’re part of the community, he’s a member of the community, and he’s getting affected by this, by something that happened in the college, breaking the window.
So we started supporting him in court. We started actions against the university and we were able to restore his job… The charges got annulled in court, and then we decided as a community, because there were people from different backgrounds, and we thought, “what else can we do to keep supporting not just Corey Menafee, but also the actions against the college?”
When one decide[s] to do this weekly ritual you know [it] is to really tell the university that this is not just a university issue anymore. This is an issue that is affecting the community. Because they should remember [that] a large percentage of the people in the community are minorities, Blacks and Latinos. Even when the students, or when the university is in complication, the people in the community are exposed to these things. So that’s why we decide to do this action every week.
Yale University began the Committee To Establish Principles on Renaming. What are your thoughts on this committee and how the university’s moving forward?
We feel that [the CEPR is] a good thing. We also have a suggestion that they should include someone from the community. We’ll keep following what their decisions are. And… we saw that it was a good thing, but we will never stop this, even though they have the committee right now, we’re not going to stop doing the rallies until they change the name…
How can the Yale students get involved with your group and support your voice?
I have to say a lot of credit to the students because they’re the ones who start these actions. I remember last year they called [for] different events here at Calhoun College and the events in the community.
We can work together, and if they want to join us every week here they’re more than welcome. They have to understand, they need to understand.
The students are just passing by as students, just four years. But this is a large community that the university has been portraying as a dangerous community, a community with a large percentage of criminality, but that… it’s the reality of the university. The students should choose to get more involved with the community, and this is a perfect example and a perfect opportunity for us to work together.
What is one question that you wish I had asked you?
One question that people never ask me is why, as an immigrant, somebody who likes fighting for the rights of immigrants, why are you getting involved in this? But I should tell people, “listen, what’s going on with the immigrant community and the history of slavery in this country is pretty close, you know.” I think in some ways, we are the new slaves in this society. We’re the invisible ones, people who cross the border, who don’t have a name, who don’t have a number, who always are abused by the system.