Confessions of a Third Generation Latino: Walking Through Ivory
Posted by Roobs on June 8, 2010
This is the 4th post in a series. For my previous post, click here. This post focuses on my time away from the Central Valley while i attended college and my evolving outlook towards my place in the Latino community.
Walking Through Ivory
Before i left for college, my father passed away. It was in the summer before the start of my senior year at Redwood High when he finally succumbed to liver cancer. My father left a large imprint on my life, especially on my views of who I am in relation to being Latino and I still wish today that he had lived long enough to hear me come out as a gay young man . My father grew up on a farm outside of Visalia and hated it. He left home to pursue a career that made him equally a target to the more fundamental characteristics of local Mexicans. But he beleived that he didn’t have to be anything for anyone except himself and his family. Perhaps it was something that he developed later on in life; further along than the stage of life i am in now. But perhaps it too began in college and at one of the same universities I would soon enter.
Redwood High, has about 2,000 students every year and more than half of that population is Latino. Unfortunately, district wide, Visalia has a 1/3 drop-out rate in grades 9-12. In my high school class a lot of those who made it to graduation did initially take off to college. A good number of them attend the local community college: College of the Sequoias. I haven’t found any data on this specifically but anecdotally, a good number of those students who leave for college usually return to Visalia before completing a 4-year degree. Many of those who do leave home attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (SLO). The joke around most high school campuses in Visalia is that SLO is a lot like Visalia except near water. I did not attend SLO.
Following my graduation from Redwood, from 2004 – 2008 I attended UC Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area was never that foriegn to me. One of my uncles lived in San Francisco for many many years and I had spent many weekends visiting him with my father. I personally love the Bay Area. I love the urban environment and the cooler weather. When you grow up in the Valley and experience summers of 110 degrees, you really appreciate an area where 85 degrees is considered a heat wave.
Attending UC Berkeley, or Cal, was and will likely remain one of the great experiences of my life. I really enjoyed my time on campus learning from top-ranked professors at a top ranked school. But outside of those classrooms, I found something oddly familiar. I found the struggle for me to find identity as a Latino had evolved and followed me to campus in the form of student organizations. At Cal, there are many student organizations and many that focus on race and identity. Groups like the Latino Student Association or even the Latino fraternity Lambda Theta Phi.
During my first two years at Cal, I was approached by a few fraternities looking to include me in their “rush” activities. I turned them all down. I didn’t want to be in a fraternity. One of the frats that approached me was Lambda Theta Phi (LTP). Having only recently left Visalia, i did not find comfort in being part of a group that was solely Latino. Again, i turned them down. The difference with this fraternity compared to others i had turned down is that i had actually met a few of the LTP brothers independently of the frat. My refusal to join prompted some awkward conversations with them but I openly discussed my personal feelings about Latino groups. I told them i did not feel comfortable being part of a group that seemed to advocate what it meant to be a “good Mexican” or “good Latino”. Needless to say, they became very defensive and i began to hear phrases i was hoping would have remained in the Central Valley. Things like “white washed” and “coconut” surfaced even in the liberal bastion of Berkeley and the Ivory tower of the university.
The point here is not that LTP was this type of group and that their mission was to instill “values” on its brothers on how to be good Latinos. The LTP brothers insisted that was not their goal. Having not been a part of their frat, i will take them at their word that this is not their mission. However, the issue here is that my struggle to find common space between different identities had followed me to Cal.
Other Latinos at Cal showed similar attitudes towards my viewpoint. In fact, it was here at Berkeley where i was first told i was too conservative, which is a funny thing to think about. In Visalia, i was a crazy liberal Democrat. In Berkeley, im some mean conservative but still a Democrat. Nevertheless, the young student activism at Berkeley mixed with first generation Latinos and first college-bound Latinos meant that i, again, was at odds with the Latino community.
If a fellow Latino saw me walking and wanted to talk, their first reaction is to speak i Spanish, the assumption being that if you are Latino you speak Spanish. When i tell them i do not speak Spanish, their first instinct is to give me a look of displeasure – a kind of “oh, you’re one of those” – placing me in a category of “fake Latino”. It was also at a time when i was first referred to as a “self-hating Mexican” because others took my personal opinions as evidence of some inner hatred not just to the Mexican community but also to myself. As if i was somehow ashamed of being Mexican. Keep in mind, i was not out and openly saying anything negative about the Latino community. All these experiences, these arguments between me and others were private experiences and were never in a public setting. But that didn’t really matter and they, again, began to see me as the self hating Mexican or white-washed Mexican. But this time I was different. This time i pushed back.
After encountering the brothers of LTP and the more pro-Latino students on campus, i began to push back. I began to argue about how I viewed what being Mexican and Latino meant. That being Mexican was not about speaking Spanish and not about whether or not you only associate with a certain group or people or participate in traditional activities. Being Mexican and being Latino is about knowing who you are as part of the greater community and knowing and appreciating your culture and heritage even without performing traditional activities daily.
As i continued to push my viewpoint, i began to meet other students, other Latino students who shared similar views. And what was great about this point in time is that it was not just other Latinos like me who may have come from a similar upper-middle class family but even those who were first-generation Latinos who shared my views. It was at Berkeley that i discovered that I and my views and experiences were not as odd and not as alone as i once thought. But where I now discovered friends with similar views, i also discovered a struggle between two groups in the same community.
My next post will focus on my time post-graduation as I begin living in a real and working world.