Student Defends Activist Lifestyle


Updated: October 10, 2012

After being arrested last week for allegedly vandalizing a controversial ad likening Muslims to “savages,” Emmanuel Pardilla, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’14, described the roots behind his activism in an interview with the Observer.

According to the New York Post, Pardilla along with three others—Leena Widdi, Sherry Wolf and Kenneth Cruz—was caught “obscuring an ad” at the 49th Street station on the N/Q/R line and charged with violating local law and unlawful posting of an advertisement. The ads said, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, defeat jihad.” Pardilla received a summons and is to appear in court on Nov. 2.

Pardilla, a Latino student from the South Bronx, is currently pursuing a double major in history and political science with a minor in African and African American studies at FCLC and credits his activism for helping him choose his majors. He has a long history of civic engagement, involvement in grassroots organizations and local activism. According to Pardilla, he became “politicized” at the age of 16 after being stopped and frisked on his way to school. “As a colored youth living in the South Bronx, being stopped and frisked, being criminalized by the police, you don’t do anything, but they stop you,” Pardilla said.

“They think you’re suspicious, and no one believes you, your mom doesn’t think you’re telling her the truth, she believes the authorities. In terms of being politicized, I’d say stop and frisk,” Pardilla said. He has been stopped and frisked four times, a policy he described as “racial criminalization” in a video for SilentMarchNYC.

Along with protesting the stop-and-frisk policy, Pardilla was also active in last year’s Occupy Wall Street En Español, where he helped translate the Occupy Wall Street literature into Spanish because he “wanted to represent my people in that movement.”

When asked about the effect of his activism on his school work, Pardilla noted that it definitely does affect his school work. “When I’m in certain classrooms, I come in with a certain perspective that I can tell that most of my peers don’t have,” Pardilla said. “Their reaction (to my views) is that they don’t get it, they are annoyed by it. Fordham is mostly white, so I’ve been in classes where I’m the only person of color…so I feel like it goes back to what it means to be a student of color here in Fordham who has history, who has parents who lived in places other than the United States…And that’s not their [students’] fault personally, that’s just how they grew up. It would be good if they were open to new perspectives.”

In terms of balancing activism with schoolwork, Pardilla said, “It’s affecting me in terms of that. It takes a lot of time out of my day… I devote everything to all this. I’m always active in political stuff and it’s difficult because at the same time I have homework and I have class.”

When advising Fordham students of ways in which they can protest without facing the risk of arrest, Pardilla cited art and writing as two tools for expressing one’s ideas. “I think it’s all art. I do a lot of poetry. It’s important to let your feelings out. Whether its music, painting, poetry or short-story writing, I think that’s all important, that’s all key because at the end of the day, culture (literature/art) is a weapon.”

“I plan to live this way,” Pardilla said about his future. “I plan to always be in the streets, always be with the people, stand by them, fight with them, struggle, until we are liberated…I see myself doing this for the rest of my life, fighting a just cause.”

Sherry Wolf described what happened the night of the arrest to, saying “Yesterday evening four of us—Palestinian, Jewish, Black and Brown, a multicultural united front against hate—were arrested immediately after posting a couple of signs correcting the racist subway ad in the 49th St. station…We were all held in jail for about seven hours, released in the middle of the night tired and hungry but proud to have participated with others around the city challenging these poisonous ads.”

Kenneth Cruz 

Kenneth Cruz, Pardilla’s “comrade” and “brother,” is a student at John Jay College studying culture and deviances. He was one of the three arrested along with Pardilla. Cruz noted, “People generally respect  the work we do as activists. They will say, ‘oh I support you.’ Will they come out to protests or become involved? That’s another question.” In regards to Arab-Americans within the United States, Cruz said he believes that “Arab-Americans and Muslims are aware of a lot of things, whether or not they voice them is one thing. For example you find a lot of masjids choose not to get too political because they are afraid of the repercussions of doing so…They don’t want to be accused of anything, understandably so in the current climate.”

Cruz embraces international solidarity and believes the ultimate goal is to achieve “community empowerment and a better society that meets the needs of people.”