Paz is the first recipient of the 2019-2020 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship, awarded to students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service, and pioneering spirit of UCLA student athlete, tennis champion and activist Arthur Ashe. It was during a meeting last year with Patricia Turner, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education, to discuss the scholarship that Paz first learned about a protest in front of the White House that Ashe joined 1992 in response to discriminatory immigration policies toward Haitian refugees.
“[Turner] told me about this protest. And it was very interesting because specifically it was about Haitian refugees and Cuban refugees who were coming into Miami, which is where I’m from,” Paz said.
The topic was perfect. Paz already knew she wanted her senior thesis to be about refugee policy, and combining that with Ashe and her own background seemed “full circle,” she said.
Paz’s completed 50-page thesis is titled Racial Affinities and Refugee Policy: A Case Study on Systemic Global Racism. The thesis is an analysis of the racialized and unjust U.S. refugee policy regarding Haitian and Cuban refugees in the Western Hemisphere from the 1970s until today, and how globalization has affected U.S. foreign policy regarding refugees and race. Paz analyzes Cuban and Haitian refugee policy and the role of the African American community, the media, international organizations, and globalization.
In her research, Paz discovered the crucial role activism played in ending discriminatory policies.
“It wasn’t until people spoke up and used their voice that the government started listening and stopping these policies,” Paz said.
Although she was already familiar with Ashe’s life and achievements, learning more about his involvement in the Haiti protests for her thesis gave Paz new appreciation for the ways in which Ashe incorporated his principles and the desire to make a difference in all areas of his life.
“I really admire the fact that he was an activist in everything that he did, like he was an activist as an athlete, he was an activist as a student,” she said. “I was really impressed that he was interested in all of these different things, but he always brought this lens of social justice and optimism to it.”
Ashe’s dedication to speaking out against injustice takes on an especially important meaning today, as people across the United States come together in peaceful protest to support the Black Lives Matter movement. As Ashe demonstrates, every person has the power to change the world.
“Regardless of the position that you’re in or your title, I feel like everyone can make a difference. Everyone has a platform, and it’s just about how you use it,” Paz said. “The thing I learned the most [at UCLA] is that you have to try to make a difference in every field that you’re in.”