Rural Western Nebraska is not a diverse community. Sure there are towns every so often in which Hispanic communities grow, but these communities are generally transient and migrate back to their homelands once the harvest has ended. My family was one among several migratory bands that moved with the seasons from Nebraska to Texas and back again annually. Like every other Mexican migrant, I’ve spent my share of time working in the fields. Sweltering summer months spent weeding fields were my inspiration for furthering my education. I knew ever since I was 12 that a life filled with weary limbs and low expectations was not for me.
Regardless of my dislike for fieldwork, it was never something I was ashamed of, like I realize now, most people my age were. It’s hard, honest labor and unfortunately, it carries a stigma. “If I hadn’t met you, I would think all Mexicans were the same,” someone once told me in school. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Silence. Stereotypes. A provincial upbringing. Every other person in my graduating class was white. I had never paid much attention to it until I received that comment my senior year.
“My Mexican works for less than yours.” “Excuse me?” Slurs tossed out casually, because, hey, who cares? “You shouldn’t be offended so easily.” “But I’m not racist.” “What do you mean you don’t like Taco Bell?” “People write songs in Spanish!” That’s news to me. For the most part, I took these comments for granted. But now, I’m realizing just how ignorant they are. Before coming to Yale all the Hispanics I knew were from one place. We shared slang, we danced to huapangos, and I had most certainly not heard of Mexican vegetarians. Before MEChA, I never had a place to talk about these things. In a predominantly white community, the issues affecting minorities weren’t a concern. Coming to Yale and joining MEChA really opened my eyes to all the injustice around me and, more importantly, to what I can do to fight it.