Friday, April 6, 2012

On Class at Yale

I want to begin by acknowledging that many of things I will say are incredibly problematic. While I recognize that I can often be irrational and risk losing creditability in these bouts of emotion, the sentiments I express here have long been gnawing at my very being. Through this blog post, I wanted to finally voice my frustration.

I’m often accused of surrounding myself with other Latinos. Close-minded, intolerant, maladapted—why must race filter friendships Michelle? I, unable to deny that most of my phone contacts have Hispanic last names, struggled to justify my apparent intolerance. After all, I had come to the same conclusion weeks before and already spent nights tormenting myself with this reality.

Why the hell can’t I just befriend other Yalies?

Then it became obvious. I walked into the dining hall this past Monday as returning students shared their spring break exploits. While reaching for cereal, one blonde, blue eyed girl shared wild tales of evenings spent lounging on gorgeous Mexican beaches. She noted that her adventures came cheap; the hotel only charged about 300 dollars a night.

300 dollars… the exact same amount I desperately attempted to hunt down 2 years ago. My grandmother had just passed away and my mother, firmly holding her tears in, watched over my shoulder as I opened tab after tab trying to find a flight under 300. Since my family in Mexico couldn’t afford a private funeral, she would be buried by the state and the state policy dictates that she buried within the next day. I refreshed the page compulsively, biting my nails every time the page reloaded.

But despite my attempts, despite how fucking hard I pressed the godamn mouse, the price never fell below five hundred. After an hour, we walked away from the computer, our feet dragging across cold tiles, and reconvened in the kitchen. Nobody said anything for the better part of that night.

I cried that night, I cry now. I cry every time I remember how much pain money has caused my family. While it is just paper, an abstract thing that gets you four dollar drinks, it’s broken me down time and time again. I can’t explain this to most Yale students because they don’t understand. I can’t explain to them how every time I buy overpriced coffee, I feel like I’ve betrayed my parents by allowing the bills that they gripped tightly to slip from my own hands.

While I recognize that these students aren’t at fault, that they never intended to do me harm, watching their spending habits, their carefree attitude wears me down. So at the risk of sounding intolerant, I can’t stand being around so much money. It acutely reminds me of the sweat and toil of my displaced parents, of how my raggedly flea market clothes never cost more than 3 dollars, of how despite wearing my Mexican heritage proudly, I haven’t been in 15 years---of how poor I am. It’s hard to relate to others.

I don’t intentionally mean to surround myself with other Hispanics, I’m just desperately trying to form a community around myself that understands where I’m coming from. As I mentioned before, I know I’m in the wrong, but can you really blame me for not being able to bite my lip meal after meal while you tell me how beautiful Cancun is?

Michelle Piñon


  1. Michelle, I should have said this before, but this cuts you down to the core. it's extremely well written and powerful. Congratulations!

  2. Michelle,

    I think that you are directing your anger in the wrong direction. If you are so alienated
    by Yale , why are you there? Also, I find it hard to believe that you couldnt get that funeral.
    If you couldnt afford the plane fare why didnt you take the bus? Yes, it would have taken
    2 or 3 days - but at least you would have been there.

    Before you label me as a blue eyed,blonde Yalie - I will tell you that I am a a middle aged
    Mexican American who like you was educated at "elite " schools and has multiple degrees.
    I have been in the academia all of my life. LIke you, I never had any money in college, indeed the business of the $300 hits home, because back in 1974, that is how much I earned the entire summer. I saved it all and then I took the bus to start my first semester in college. No plane fares for me.

    I would advise you not to to restrict your friends to Chicanos. I do have Mexican friends,
    but my soul mate turned out to be Jewish.

    I would also encourage you to go to Mexico. It doesnt cost much, especially if you take the bus. Indeed, Mexico was my vacation spot for 3 successive summers when I was in grad school. We even went to Cancun, BTW the hotels on the Isla de Mujeres are cheaper and the beach is better. You are lucky to be going to school at Yale - dont waste it by
    focusing on what you dont have. Look at what you do have.

    Hasta luego.....

  3. One more thing, just a few days ago I got an e-mail from a Chicano who interviewed for the PhD program at my institution (somewhere on the East Coast). We had kept in touch over the last few years, they solicited my advice several times regarding choice of thesis advisor, choosing a dissertation topic, working with their advisor etc. Failure or walking away from their program was not an option for them - not when you have parents who support themselves by picking strawberries in California part of the year. Education has changed this
    student's life dramatically and permanently. Yale will change you for the better,but only if you let it.