A Thank You Letter to My Mentors
Mentors are underrated. We hear about the need to find..Continue Reading
“College will be the place where you find yourself”, was the pitch line that many teachers and counselors would tell me with a smile on their face. As my senior year was ending I was nervous and excited, I was going to go away to college. Unlike the rest of my classmates, I was going to pursue my education in a place unheard of in my city, the University of Redlands.
Redlands had a 26.2% Latino/Hispanic population at the time of enrollment. I didn’t really think much of it. I dismissed the numbers by simply thinking that there would be fewer Latinos than that in my current school district. No biggie! Right?
It wasn’t until move in day my freshmen year that I realized what 26.2% Latinos looked like. I along my parents stood out like a neon open sign on a dark night. My brown skin made me stand out in such a way that I began to feel uneasy. I could feel stares on me and my family as we went about our day doing the various move in activities. I would feeling relief when I would notice another person or family of color, this would reassure me that I wasn’t the only brown skin student there. My parents left and I tried to push the uneasy feeling to the back of my mind. I was here, at college, the place I had dreamed about everything would be okay.
I tried to ignore the lingering feelings and focus on my studies. This turned out to be harder than I thought it would be. Remarks began to be made by a classmate on various occasions questioning my admissions to the university. At first, these remarks made me laugh but as the repetition of these remarks increased, the uneasy feelings mixed with a dose of anger made me question my own abilities and my admission to the university.
Was I really admitted only because I was Latina?
Did my good grades and test scores mean nothing?
Were the hard work and sleepless nights easily dismissed?
These and other thoughts ran through my mind. I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel like I belonged. The only people that I really felt comfortable with were the kitchen staff. Their playful bickering and their concern for my eating habits in Spanish projecting an image of home that I desperately missed. I was fortunate enough to find people that helped me feel comfortable at school. However, while I could form a space for myself to feel comfortable in being a student with Latinx roots. Other Latinxs students took it upon themselves to try to full heartily emerge into school culture to feel comfortable at this institution that we would all be calling home for the following years.
I noticed that these students, as well as other students in other institutions with low diversity rate, withheld from showcasing any characteristics that could alienate them from the “norm”. A new norm, that was for many completely new and different from what they knew. They began to identify not as Latinx students or students of color but as simply students, some even opting to identify as white.
This idea very much differs from the almost common idea that Latino/x students have an extreme sense of pride in representing themselves, their families, and their culture in higher education. However, I don’t think that the portrayal in comparison to a student who opt to not identified as Latinos should be seen as the ideal vs. the negative. I believe that this goes back to the low diversity numbers that many institutions have across the country. Which results in impacting a student’s cultural and personal identity.
We are influenced by our surroundings. I didn’t feel comfortable at school because I didn’t feel as though I belonged in my new environment. We had a conference, where other students expressed their discomfort at school, there I realized I wasn’t alone. There were others that felt the same as I did and I could talk to them. Especially, since this was a feeling and issue I wasn’t familiar with.
Back home, I knew that when I spoke it was me, Yelena, speaking. At school, I didn’t know if professors and peers saw me as a fellow student. Or if I was the Latina who got in to raise the diversity levels at school. I changed my uneasy mindset and after some time began to grow comfortable at school. I decided to not allow my skills to be second guessed by others and by myself.
Yet, I was very fortunate and very determined to do something for myself. A space where I could be the Latina and the student. I accomplished that. This isn’t the case for many students. Some students want to fit and don’t want the hassle of being identified or boxed into any other categories that would alienate them from the rest of the school.
In the words of Fluffy,” I am not a Latino comedian. I am a comedian who happens to be Latino.”
I take this quote and hope that whether you identify as a Latino/x student or a student that happens to be Latino/x or for those that don’t identify as Latino/x at all, you find a place where you can be yourself and you feel like you belong. After all, college is a place where you find yourself but it isn’t the only place where one learns everything about themselves.
Let me know what you think! Have you ever felt out of place at school? If you have, how has that changed?