In celebration of Indiana’s bicentennial, a torch relay passed through Elkhart County on Tuesday Oct. 4, featuring three Goshen College employees.The Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay started in Harrison County on Friday Sept. 9 and will finish in Marion County on Oct. 15.
Richard Aguirre, director of corporate and foundation relations, Rocio Diaz, CIIE coordinator of intercultural community engagement, and Gilberto Perez, senior director of intercultural development and educational partnerships, each took a turn running through Goshen with the torch.
“It was a fun experience,” said Perez, “but perhaps the greatest joy in all of this was seeing the GC family show up to cheer us on. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I was happy to be a torchbearer.”
Aguirre had similar feelings about it.
“It felt great to represent the Latino community, the city of Goshen, Goshen College and my family,” he said. “It was over very quickly, but this is something I’ll always remember with gratitude and joy.”
Initially, these three were not included on the list of 28 participants. In fact, no Latinos or African-Americans had been selected at all to represent Elkhart County, despite minorities making up 24 percent of the county’s population according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
When the original 28 people were announced this past June, Aguirre noticed the lack of diversity and made a comment on his Facebook page. That post caused reactions and conversations about the torchbearers across the community.
Some people supported Aguirre and questioned the lack of diversity, while others criticized him for bringing up the issue.
In the end, the relay organizers tasked Aguirre with meeting with Latino leaders to discuss this situation, as well as an African-American leader to gather other African-American leaders. After meeting with the organizers, six Latinos and six African-Americans were added to the relay team.
“I didn’t necessarily believe Elkhart County torch relay organizers would change the composition of the torchbearer team,” said Aguirre. “And they didn’t have to do that. But after reflection, I know they felt bad that African-Americans and Latinos were not selected, much less nominated, to participate in the relay.”
The 28 became 40, and Aguirre, Diaz and Perez were nominated to participate.
“It was ironic and an unexpected turn in my life,” said Aguirre, “that I was nominated and selected to participate after pointing out the lack of diversity among the original group of torchbearers, but I was honored to represent the Latino community, the city of Goshen, Goshen College and my family.”
The day went according to plan, due to what Aguirre describes as “excellent organization by the Elkhart County Bicentennial Torch Relay Committee.” With the torchbearer caravan being on time, they had some extra time at the torch exchange station, which Perez used to “take pictures and celebrate with the GC family that was there.”
Beforehand, Aguirre found himself nervous, but when the relay began, he gained confidence.
“We were told what to do if we fell or dropped the torch,” he said, “so I started to imagine the worst—what would happen if I dropped the torch or caught myself on fire! By the time of the relay, though, I felt much calmer, especially when I got my hands on the torch and started to run.”
Perez also felt the significance of carrying the torch.
“When I started running,” Perez said, “I felt excitement to be holding the torch, knowing that it was an honor to have been selected as a torchbearer. To have participated in this historic experience is one I’ll remember for quite a while.”
According to the torch relay’s website it is something that “will promote and unify the state by connecting people, communities and regions.” Aguirre’s efforts helped make that a reality in Elkhart County.
“As I carried the torch,” Aguirre said, “I also felt that I was doing something that demonstrated that inclusion and equity can become a reality if you’re willing to take a risk and point out instances where we’re falling short as a community.”