Although the world of higher education poses academic challenges that develop one’s critical thinking, a more significant challenge students confront is one that tests their grasp on the environment from which they come.
Attending Boston College for three semesters has made me feel more in tune with my Mexican heritage than my childhood in a neighborhood filled with Mexican traditions. As an English major, I’ve been exposed primarily to literature with British and Irish narratives. In my other classes, the curriculum, more often than not, aligns itself with a Eurocentric worldview-in addition to being underrepresented in the student population, my story is not promoted within the classroom. To become better versed in Mexico and the Mexican diaspora, I have conversed with other students of Mexican ancestry, in addition to doing my own research. Studying my heritage has fostered appreciation for the culture in which I was raised, but my gratitude for my Mexican inheritance did not come about until I encountered the threat of losing touch with my upbringing.
It is not, however, only a question of my personal connection with my upbringing-I’m scared that my kids and their kids and their kids’ kids won’t identify with how I grew up and what I grew up with. Regardless of intention, BC pressures its students, at the very least, to consider changing themselves to fit a particular mold-one that sports Vineyard Vines and L.L. Bean boots. Although many may argue that BC does not urge its student body to dress a certain way, it is undeniable that a trend exists among students and is more than mere coincidence. You might be thinking, “they’re just clothes,” but to integrate socially, I believed I needed to trade in jeans and Jordans for button-downs and pastel chinos. Now, I feel happier and smarter when I dress preppier than when I dress like another kid from my neighborhood in the Bronx, N.Y., but this wasn’t the case before college.
Being successful at BC resembles, to some degree, being successful in the “real world” because both promote a culture that isn’t hoodies and sneakers or Spanish music blasting in bodegas-all intrinsic elements of my background. Instead, a bourgeois culture that expects a tailored suit is imposed on me. Recently, I approached a mentor of mine to teach me table etiquette because I’m tired of feeling incompetent in that setting. My upbringing is simply different, not better or worse, than that of people I usually share classrooms with, but the University doesn’t do the best job of convincing me it agrees.
Caring about students such as myself-first generation, AHANA, or from less-than-preferable socioeconomic and educational backgrounds-goes beyond accepting a small percentage of these students. I’ve come to realize that diversity goes beyond skin color. Although BC may boast about the number of AHANA students it accepts, these students oftentimes fail to diversify BC because they tend to come from backgrounds that mold them into being more like the stereotypical BC student. Although I am guilty of typecasting, I do not identify with the classical music performed at Pops on the Heights or the acts booked for campus entertainment. I may accept and give certain things a try, but that does not mean I can identify with them. I’ve met students who have had less trouble assimilating than I have, but I don’t ever want to disengage my culture fully, as many of these students have needed to, in order to gain a “fuller” experience at BC. Instead, there’s a newfound necessity to share my love for Vicente Fernandez and other artists that play when my mother cleans the house on Sunday mornings, to advocate for immigration reform, and to encourage other kids from inner-cities by performing well academically and carrying myself in a respectable manner-not only to bring awareness to the greater BC community, but to prevent me from forgetting everything that helped me get to the Heights.
When I return home, I expect it to grow like I am, but I realize that I’m the only one growing. It doesn’t have to remain that way, but to Latinos, progressing always means selling out. Such an outlook hinders rather than benefits us. I’ve already made it farther than most people ever will from my neighborhood. Through my family, I strive to share what I’ve learned about higher education during my time at BC, while advocating for being proud of our humble upbringing.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.