Doctoral candidate Edgar Garcia discusses elements of Chicano author Oscar Zeta Acosta’s novel “Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo” in the SAC on Wednesday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Ally Thonsgaard | Daily Texan Staff

Group solidarity and community organization, critical elements of environmental justice, are often emphasized in indigenous literature, according to Yale English graduate student Edgar Garcia.

“Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo,” which Chicano author Oscar Zeta Acosta published in 1972, is an indigenous ecological migration narrative written in response to growing environmental threats of the 20th century, Garcia said in a talk on-campus Wednesday. These threats included uranium mining, food toxicity and pesticides that destroy the natural landscape, and had repercussions for all human beings, Garcia said. 

“Humans exist by nature within ecologies, and, when your ecology is compromised, toxicity, disease and ecological destruction affects your body,” Garcia said. “It causes a feeling of existential vulnerability.”

Garcia discussed how “Buffalo”’s main character, Oscar, escapes the toxic wasteland of his city to travel to the Southwest region the United States in search of his Chicano identity. During his travels, he turns into a buffalo and interacts with a host of Native American animals. Through his experiences, Oscar acquires an appreciation for the environment. 

Acosta deliberately makes his characters unusual to keep things interesting throughout the story, according to Garcia.

“He turns into an animal and explores the ‘wild west’ with a motley crew of degenerates,” Garcia said. “It must allow for aberrancy, contradiction and complication, and that’s precisely what Acosta deals with.”

Those in attendance included Pauline Strong, anthropology and women’s and gender studies professor, who said she had reservations about grouping all indigenous Native American cultures under one heading.

“The concept of indigenous is a very broad one, intended to highlight the similarities among groups of people who have a precolonial history to a landscape, and highlighting those similarities builds an international coalition,” Strong said. “But, in doing so, I think it’s important to be aware of the specificities of each group, culture and relationship to each environment.”

UT anthropology alumnus Bowman McMahon said he appreciated the sentiment behind Acosta’s work and advocated that people take an indigenous approach to environmental justice.

“The book is a good example of literature and poetry with the agenda of getting people to stop worrying about their individual identity and personality,” McMahon said. “It fosters in people a sense of familial responsibility for the entire world and all life on earth.”

Being at home is overrated.

In the sports world, being at home is supposed to somehow give the host an advantage.

That has not been the case for No. 24 Texas, which enters its last two matches of a 10-match home stand with a 4-4 home record.

The Longhorns finally broke their six-match losing streak last Friday, but quickly found defeat in a contested meeting against No. 6 USC on Sunday. 

This weekend they face No. 17 Michigan and No. 50 Yale. The Wolverines are on a four-match win streak that includes dominating wins over then No. 31 Notre Dame and No. 13 Miami.

The following weekend, the Longhorns will start conference play on the road against TCU and Texas Tech. Maybe the road will treat them better.

Texas begins play Saturday, March 8 at noon against Michigan, and faces Yale on Sunday at noon.

Lanya Olmstead was born in Florida to a mother who immigrated from Taiwan and an American father of Norwegian ancestry. Ethnically, she considers herself half Taiwanese and half Norwegian. But when applying to Harvard, Olmstead checked only one box for her race: white.

“I didn’t want to put ‘Asian’ down,” Olmstead said. “Because my mom told me there’s discrimination against Asians in the application process.”

For years, many Asian-Americans have been convinced that it’s harder for them to gain admission to the nation’s top colleges.

Studies show that Asian-Americans meet these colleges’ admissions standards far out of proportion to their 6 percent representation in the U.S. population, and that they often need test scores hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission. Critics say these numbers, along with the fact that some top colleges with race-blind admissions have double the Asian percentage of Ivy League schools, prove the existence of discrimination.

Now, an unknown number of students are responding to this concern by declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications.

For those with only one Asian parent, whose names don’t give away their heritage, that decision can be relatively easy.
Olmstead is a freshman at Harvard and a member of HAPA, the Half-Asian People’s Association. She said she would advise students with one Asian parent to “check whatever race is not Asian.”

Amalia Halikias is a Yale freshman whose mother was born in America to Chinese immigrants; her father is a Greek immigrant. She also checked only the “white” box on her application.

“As someone who was applying with relatively strong scores, I didn’t want to be grouped into that stereotype,” Halikias said.

Her mother was “extremely encouraging” of that decision, Halikias says, even though she places a high value on preserving their Chinese heritage.

But leaving the Asian box blank felt wrong to Jodi Balfe, a Harvard freshman who was born in Korea and came here at age 3 with her Korean mother and white American father. She checked the box against the advice of her high school guidance counselor, teachers and friends.

“I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of trying to hide half of my ethnic background,” Balfe said.

Immigration from Asian countries was heavily restricted until laws were changed in 1965. When the gates finally opened, many Asian arrivals were well-educated, endured hardships to secure more opportunities for their families, and were determined to seize the American dream through effort and education.

“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight A’s. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best,” wrote Amy Chua, only half tongue-in-cheek, in her recent best-selling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

Of course, not all Asian-Americans fit this stereotype. They are not always obedient hard workers who get top marks. Some embrace American rather than Asian culture.

But compared with American society in general, Asian-Americans have developed a much stronger emphasis on intense academic preparation as a path to a handful of the very best schools.

“The whole Tiger Mom stereotype is grounded in truth,” Tao Tao Holmes said, a Yale sophomore with a Chinese-born mother and white American father. She did not check “Asian” on her application.

“My math scores aren’t high enough for the Asian box,” she said. “I say it jokingly, but there is the underlying sentiment of, if I had emphasized myself as Asian, I would have [been expected to] excel more in stereotypically Asian-dominated subjects.”

“I was definitely held to a different standard [by my mom], and to different standards than my friends,” Holmes said. She sees the same rigorous academic focus among many other students with immigrant parents, even non-Asian ones.

Does Holmes think children of American parents are generally spoiled and lazy by comparison? “That’s essentially what I’m trying to say.”

Asian students have higher average SAT scores than any other group, including whites. A study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it’s 2400). Espenshade found that Asian-Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or black students with an 1100.

The California Institute of Technology, a private school that chooses not to consider race, is about one-third Asian.

(Thirteen percent of California residents have Asian heritage.) The University of California-Berkeley, which is forbidden by state law to consider race in admissions, is more than 40 percent Asian — up from about 20 percent before the law was passed.

Yale, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania declined to make admissions officers available for interviews for this story.

Printed on Monday, December 5, 2011 as: Asian-Americans choosing not to reveal race on college applications

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Yale sophomore Andrew Hendricks has gotten used to receiving strange looks when he crosses the Ivy League campus in his Air Force uniform.

Hendricks, the only Air Force cadet at Yale, wears the uniform on days he drives to the University of Connecticut to train with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a program that had been barred from his university until faculty agreed to welcome it back beginning next fall.

Four decades after Vietnam War protesters cheered the departure of ROTC programs from some Ivy League universities, their return is bringing little more than a symbolic change to campuses where students are neither protesting or enlisting.

Yale, Harvard and Columbia all signed agreements this year to bring back ROTC. The antagonism with elite universities faded with the end of the draft, and much of the lingering opposition to the military dissolved with last year’s repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that banned gays from serving openly in the armed services. The universities said the policy violated non-discrimination rules for campus organizations.

A tiny number of students at these schools pursue ROTC — a total of three at Yale and five at Columbia do so through off-campus arrangements — and those numbers are not expected to rise dramatically. But the agreements to revive ROTC are important to the schools, which once produced many of America’s most decorated military officers, and the armed services, which are regaining a presence at some of the country’s best-known universities.

Officials are excited about ROTC because it offers students another path to national leadership, the dean of Yale College, Mary Miller, said in an interview.

The change is likely to be minimal at Yale, as well as at Harvard and Columbia, where Naval ROTC gained formal recognition but students are expected to continue training at nearby campuses. At Harvard, which has nine midshipmen training at other Boston area schools, the Naval ROTC director said it would not make sense to create a new detachment.

Regardless of the numbers, advocates said it is important to the military to be represented on elite campuses.

“Symbols matter, and the symbolism of America’s leading universities declaring or even implying that there is something illegitimate about serving your nation in uniform was shameful,” said Graham Allison, director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense.

But there is still some resistance in the Ivy League. Brown University’s president, Ruth Simmons, said this week that she continues to back the school’s policy of denying ROTC recognition as an academic program.

A music professor at Brown, Jeff Todd Titon, said many faculty feel there is no place for the military at a liberal arts college.
“The military is a chain of command organization where obedience is required, and that’s just antithetical to our ideals and goals,” he said.

Hendricks is looking forward to dropping the three-hour weekly commute to Storrs when ROTC comes to New Haven, and he also thinks it will make him feel more at home on his own campus.

“Knowing that I’ll be doing this for Yale, I’ll feel more school pride,” he said.