For most of my life, I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Mostly African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos, many who have recently immigrated, live in my neighborhood. South Central Los Angeles is also notorious for its poverty, failed school system, and gang violence to the extent that the city decided to change the name of the area to South Los Angeles. This summer I left the comfort of of bodegas, Spanglish, and Mexican and Central American food to come to Yale, a dream come true.
Although I love Yale, the transition to Yale has been everything but easy. I miss eating pupusas and tacos with my family, speaking Spanglish, listening to my grandfather discuss Latin American politics and Hugo Chavez, listening to the chisme of the neighborhood, and not having to dress in layers. I have also had to come to terms with my identity. This year, I have come to terms with what it means to be a Latina woman from a disadvantaged neighborhood. Being away from home has made me more attune that my reality is alien to others.
Out of ignorance, students have made very hurtful and bigoted comments which make me uncomfortable. My first memory of Yale is of being asked a hurtful question. A fellow Yale admit asked me “Are you actually Hispanic? Or did you just say that to get in?” after seeing my name tag that contained my surname: Cruz . I did not know what to say. Yes, I am actually Hispanic but also I felt hurt that my accomplishments were belittled because of my ethnicity. He later went on to criticize institutions like Yale for educating international students and immigrants. Uncomfortable with my own skin and uncomfortable with my current situation, I am often flabbergasted and speechless. Yet, my own silence disturbs me and makes me feel guilty. While studying for calculus or heading to class, my thoughts begin to consume my mind. I am ashamed of my silence; I am supposed to be a Yale student. Yale students are courageous, eloquent, and the “leaders of tomorrow”. Yet, my silence mocks me and I revert to feeling like an insecure middle school student. My shame and guilt are also combined with anger. Why should I have the obligation to speak up? Why can’t other students be cognizant of the backgrounds of other students?
Recently, this discomfort has become more perverse to the extent that I have turned to friends and mentors here at Yale. I have found solace within talking to other MEChistas but also with friends who do not share my story. A recent dinner with a friend has shifted my paradigm regarding my own discomfort. My friend told me, “Your discomfort is actually a really good thing. It means this institution is changing.” Decades ago, it would have been impossible for me to get a college education nevertheless a Yale education. Yale is changing; it is becoming more inclusive and diverse. It is easier to be a student of color here then it was a couple of years ago.
For this reason, Yale I encourage you to share my own feeling of discomfort. Let us have an open discussion on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship and identity that can be at times uncomfortable and awkward. I have broken my silence. I am eager to listen; Yale tell me your story because there isn’t such a thing as the average “Yalie”.
Saybrook College Class of 2015