This semester, I am taking a tutorial course, which consists of one professor and one student. The professor and ten students enrolled in the tutorial, titled “She Speaks in Color” in the Africana Studies department, met and discussed our first essay. We had to write an autobiographical essay about our experience with colorism. Writing this essay made me reflect on my upbringing and how being a person of color and specifically Hispanic has impacted me from a young age and is impacting me now in college.
I grew up in a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood. I first became aware of being Hispanic in the first grade, when I was transferred to a school district farther from where I lived as part of a program I only recently learned was established to increase diversity in more affluent neighborhoods around mine. The yellow school bus of students composed the majority of people of color in the entire school. I quickly noticed that I did not look like and could not relate to many of my classmates.
While I was in elementary school and middle school, my mother cleaned homes and mansions in wealthy, nearby neighborhoods. I noticed that the people living in the homes looked similar and the same people cleaning them looked similar. I began to associate race with socioeconomic status.
In the 6th grade, I went back to East Palo Alto for middle school and high school. The differences I saw in terms of colorism were now based on the stark differences between East Palo Alto, at one point the murder capital of the U.S., and its neighboring city, Palo Alto, home of Stanford University and Apple.
Now that I am in college, I feel that I have to face my identities as low-income, first-generation, and Latina more than I have had to do in the past. These are a few ways in which that has been the case:
I find myself bringing personal anecdotes and experiences to explain issues of race, segregation, gentrification, etc.
When race comes up in class or other discussions, I find myself ready to clarify and share. Sometimes, though, it feels like I have to control how much I say, or I have to explain things in a way that will allow me to effectively convey experiences so others see my perspective.
People around me “can’t relate” to my stresses back home
I have tried telling others around me about what it is like to be first-gen and have responsibilities back home such as paying bills, managing finances, translating documents, etc. I have already been told “I can’t relate” more than once. It can be frustrating but I also think it is important for others to know because it has been difficult being away from home for these reasons and more.
I can now take classes in Latinx Studies
I have never been able to learn about history that focuses on Latin America and have had very few opportunities to discuss the role of the Hispanic community in America. I intend to take a class in Latinx Studies next semester and I plan on concentrating in Latinx Studies as well.
I am part of a community
I felt very comfortable during the first meeting for Vista, Williams’ organization for Hispanic students, because others could relate to my experiences. There is an inexplicable sense of comfort and community when I am with other students of color. My friends and I have already encountered individuals and overheard comments that are flat-out racist and ignorant. There is a unanimous understanding and attention that is present when we comfort each other about issues surrounding our identity.
I may be part of a minority on campus, but I am proud of who I am.