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Political Opportunity

03/21/2012

(Joaquin Bernal, right, with New York State Assemblyman Jose Rivera)

In 2004, Joaquin Bernal '12 of Pittsfield, Mass., came to this country on political asylum from his native Colombia. Soon, armed with his degree in political science and public policy from MCLA, Bernal, a founder of the Colombian Green Party, will set off to start a third political party in the United States.

"I had to leave my country for safety reasons," Bernal explained. "I am an attorney in my country. I complained about corruption and that made me too many enemies, so I had to move."

When he arrived in the Berkshires nearly eight years ago, Bernal spoke no English. And, despite what he needed to do to support his family as he started out life in America, such as cleaning windows and washing dishes, "I started to like it here," Bernal said. "I am proud of what had to do before."

He spent a year to learn English, and then took a few classes at Berkshire Community College before transferring to MCLA with credits previously earned at a university in Colombia.

After he graduates in May, Bernal plans to move to an area of the U.S. with a concentrated Latino population, such as California, Florida, Arizona or Texas. He wants to pick up similar to where he left off before by combining the background in history, government and national affairs he gained in Colombia with his MCLA education.

"It's a huge project, but I can't wait to start. I am the founder here of the 'Latino Political Party,'" he explained. "No one from Colombia recognizes me now. In the beginning, when I left the country, the Green Party was a weak political party. Now it is a strong party with people in government positions.

"The big idea is to have a third major political party in this county. Right now, Latinos make up 16 percent of the population in the United States. By 2035, it's safe to say we will be 50 percent, or more.

"I think I am in the right place at the right time," Bernal continued. "MCLA is teaching me about history, about possibilities, and I think the Establishment must accept a third party. The two other parties fight too much with each other. We need a third party."

Besides being close to his home, MCLA was his choice because it is part of the state's university system. "That means a high-quality education. And, I love the political science and public policy major," Bernal said.

He presently serves a paid internship at the New York State Congress, assisting Jose Rivera, who represents the 78th District in the Bronx. Bernal is the only intern representing the Massachusetts University System as he competes with 150 other political science students from around the world, including China, Japan, England and India.

At first, the 44-year-old felt uncomfortable on campus because of his age and the language barrier. "But, people decided to be friendly to me and now I have regular relationships with the other students. They don't see me as an older man and I don't see them as young people with no experience. I see them as classmates and some of them are my friends."

"This is a place where dreams come true," Bernal said. "I am just one example of how people can move forward and do big things."