Alvaro Watson, a first-year social work graduate student, is probably not as well-known as the organization he founded. Free-speech group Temple University Purpose has attracted regional attention several times since its inception in March 2009 by inviting controversial speakers to Main Campus. The Temple News met with Watson to find out what led him into social work and, for him, what comes after life at Temple.
The Temple News: Where are you from originally?
Alvaro Watson: I was born in El Salvador and moved here in 1988 with my family due to political turmoil in the country driven by the socialist and communist systems. I was son to a leftist-socialist guerilla father, a conservative mother and grandson to a Yankee. Of course, when my mother found out he was a guerilla, she didn’t marry him. My dad was arrested before I was born, and I’ve only met him twice.
TTN: Why did you decide to study social work?
AW: In El Salvador, I had seen how poor, uneducated country people had been taken advantage of. When we moved to America, I had seen my mother struggle with English, hold factory jobs and house-cleaning jobs – the typical immigrant jobs. It’s very simple. I wanted to provide a bilingual voice to other Latinos so that they wouldn’t have to go through the same thing. I had an easy transition into America’s education system because I was very young when I moved. I absorbed English like a sponge, and I could read and write. Many Latino immigrant youth aren’t able to do either, which is the deciding factor for a successful assimilation into the American life. For decades upon decades, an effective mediator between the Latino immigrant and the American education system has been lacking. I want to be that defining mediator.
TTN: What encouraged you to start TU Purpose?
AW: I wanted to do more than just exist as a student. The goal of Purpose is to allow members to engage in discussion on social and political issues. Our official mission statement is “to create a dialogue where discussion needs to be had.” Unfortunately, we’re viewed as bigots because of some of our speakers and events.
TTN: Who and what have those speakers and events been?
AW: Last year, we invited [Dutch parliamentarian] Geert Wilders to discuss his stance on Islam. Temple became the first university in the country to host him. We also held Temple’s first annual Drug, Alcohol and Domestic Violence Awareness Week. This was a concept we came up with to encourage collaboration among as many student organizations as possible, as we tackled tough issues that many of us can relate to. Other events have covered topics of the difficulties of abortion, the Youth (Green) movement in Iran and individual rights in education. Recently, we invited Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who discussed the nature and implications of the ground zero mosque. While this was controversial, our critics don’t understand that we are able to separate radical Islam from moderate Islam.
TTN: What are your future plans after you graduate?
AW: The education will not stop at social work. I ultimately want to get my Master of Science and Ph.D. in education policy so I can enter the education policy arena – although, I’m also toying with the idea of foreign affairs. If I do enter the education policy arena, I want to design successful policies in the area of education for recent Latino immigrants. Ultimately, I want these to have a nationwide influence on legislation so that every state, upon its own assessment, can best address the needs of its Latino population.
Matt Flocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.