John Quinones, seven-time Emmy Award winner and ABC correspondent, spoke to Tennessee Tech students about how he overcame discrimination as a child and the importance of embracing ethics and diversity in America. Students filed in one after the other Sept. 22 and filled the seats, eager and anxious to hear what Quinones had to say.
Born in poverty in San Antonio, Texas, Quinones grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and went to a school where kids were paddled for speaking Spanish. Early on, he was discouraged from attending college and pursuing a job that wasn’t woodshop or mechanic based. However, he was encouraged by a 10th grade English teacher to pursue reporting for his high school newspaper. He knew he had to overcome his accent and shyness in order to achieve his goals as a reporter, so he joined a drama class where he eventually worked through them. His message to students about overcoming obstacles in school and life was simple:
“Don’t let negative messages that society gives us keep us from shooting for the stars,” said Quinones.
John Quinones later became ABC’s first Latino correspondent and host of “Primetime: What Would You Do?” Quinones’ show features hidden cameras that capture different scenarios, which concentrate on how we, as a society, react when faced with cultural differences. These cameras focus on how people react when surrounded by “actors” who are engaging in cultural stereotypes, such as saying, “All Muslims are terrorists.” The show has run on ABC for eight years and is scheduled to be air again next year.
Quinones’ main point with the show is to stand up when you feel something is wrong. People react to stereotypes all around us, and it’s society’s job to react and stop the bullying of other people from different cultures.
“Whenever you see something disturbing, and there is a voice in the back of your head telling you to do something, do it,” said Quinones.
Tech’s Multicultural Affairs office partnered with the Student Success Center to bring Quinones to campus. Robert Owens, assistant vice president of minority student affairs, said he hoped that students who attended the event would take away the importance of having an open mind when interacting with people who look different. Quinones’ objective was to “inspire and motivate any students that struggle because of their religion, sexual preference and race.” For some students, such as Shelby Johnson, a freshman communication major, the lecture really hit home and showed the importance of understanding various cultures.
“I’m from Sparta, Tennessee where everybody knows everybody or is related to them somehow, so we don’t really see much cultural differences in our town,” said Johnson. “When we are faced with people that aren’t like us, none of us really know how to react. Listening to Quinones talk about what he went through as a child, and how he had to overcome being discriminated against, just showed me that I need to be more conscious of the different kinds of people around me.”