One of Lou Perez’ favorite expressions is citizen of the world. To the Chicano professor who was raised in East Los Angeles, and chose to study and teach Japanese and East Asian history, the phrase does not necessarily mean one who travels far distances. Rather it means one who travels beyond their comfort zone, whether physically or mentally.
Perez said his duty is to broaden his students’ perspectives just as his was broadened from a self-professed misogynistic upbringing. Many of his students’ views of diversity were also learned from the families, towns and counties in which they were raised. “They don’t think of themselves as citizens of the world,” Perez said. “So we who teach global history have to approach students about the true diversity of mankind: what it is that makes us people.“
Americans’ view of diversity is race and ethnicity, important in the U.S. but not in the rest of the world. Diversity more properly has to do with what you do and your outlook. I consider myself a recovering misogynist, working to promote feminism from the outsider’s point of view, which is one of the reasons I am a member of the Women’s Studies Coalition. You have to become aware of a problem before addressing it.
”Perez is passionate about using his international background to serve the minority community as a diversity advocate. He shares his life experiences as a non-traditional student who came to academia later in his professional life along with his military experiences. “I tell them you don’t have to settle for being an outsider,” he said. “In this country, you can decide to do something different at any age. It is my duty to show them it is possible; my duty to bring the outsiders in.” Perez said affirmative action has gone through many permutations, from access to education and jobs for underrepresented groups to today’s access for first generation college students. He said many public university students are the first in their families to achieve a college degree as he was the first to finish high school.
“It wasn’t that I was so much smarter than my family,” Perez said. “Indeed, my Latina/Indian grandmother, who was basically illiterate, memorized the gospels in Latin! She had been captured by Pancho Villa’s forces during the Mexican Revolution, raped and turned over to the person who became my grandfather as a war prize. She came to the U.S. as an illegal alien and had no access to education.”
Perez said television is often students’ first way of learning about diversity, but that educators need to focus that understanding and explain the importance of the issue. He said for some of his students, coming to campus is their first experience with travel, including traveling in their mind by looking past narrow constructs. “Their parents made the trip, maybe from the country to a city,” he said. “Now the kids are making the journey to become citizens of the world by becoming informed and finding the niche where they can make a difference. Not just to feed themselves or become economically better than their parents, but to make a difference for the next generation. When I see my students’ eyes opening up to the possibility of becoming a citizen of the world, it is such a kick. That is one of the reasons I still enjoy teaching.”