I went to high school in Miami Dade County: the 305, as Pitbull likes to call it. My high school actually gave an honorary degree to Pitbull a couple years after I graduated. Though I wasn’t born in Miami, living there for seven years certainly made me appreciate its pastelitos and Cuban coffee.
Attending high school in Miami after living in New England was hard. I remember telling my mother that I didn’t like the kids at my high school because they were stupid, and it made me think that being smart and bookish was inconsistent with my ethnic identity. I know that such thinking was detrimental. Just because my high school peers didn’t go on to attend elite institutions doesn’t mean they weren’t intelligent. Many of them were born in other countries and did not come from families that understood the American academic system the way the majority of Yale students’ families probably did. They faced cultural, geographic and linguistic barriers.
My high school was over 90 percent Latino, and I had classmates from all corners of Latin America and the Caribbean. Though the majority of their families spoke Spanish, the racial and ethnic diversity among my Latino peers was astounding. I learned that with each Latino culture came a distinct set of customs, foods and linguistic patterns. Reducing them a single label would be absurd.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 17.1 percent of Americans identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2013. In contrast, only 9 percent of Yale University students identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the Yale Office of Institutional Research.
Latinos are drastically underrepresented on this campus, and it has made me feel incredibly alone over the last three years. When I first moved to Miami, friends would tease me because I didn’t have a Miami accent; they called me a “white girl.” Once at Yale, I imitated a Miami girl accent to a few friends and they cringed. “You sound so stupid. I’m so glad you don’t talk like that,” one of them said. I laughed at the time, but now I’m angry that I associated the Latino voice with unintelligence.
Last week, Ryan Wilson ’17 published an op-ed in the Yale Herald discussing blackness at Yale. In his piece, he called for conversations on campus to expand beyond black and white experiences; he asked students to consider the experiences of other ethnic minorities, specifically Asians, indigenous peoples and Latinos. His words resonated with me. Non-white voices are important, and we can’t just reduce the conversation to black versus white.
As an English major, I am often the only underrepresented minority in my departmental seminars and workshops. Given the lack of Latino faculty on campus, I frequently feel as though I am a Latino representative. Because the majority of the faculty and students at Yale are white, the majority of my courses discuss cultural and sociological histories from a de facto white perspective. Courses that aim to be more critical of colonial and imperialistic narratives are often the exception.
I am incredibly fortunate to attend a school like Yale, especially as an artist, but creating art is difficult when one feels so isolated. Though I’ve had many professors who offer their sympathy and compassion, they have a limited grasp of my background. I aim to create writing that builds understanding, but this is much easier to do when I can believe that my teachers will read my work as representative of my own experiences and unique voice. While I’ve seen white students write dozens of works about rural America, I often feel that my work about people of color and violence is considered cliché and stereotypical instead of unique and resonant.
When I voice my anger to fellow students and faculty members, I am often told to suck it up. White American students can write about their cultural experiences without ethnic labels. Non-white and international students must speak and write with the constant presence of their identities.
At Yale, I’m amazed by the ignorance of my non-Latino peers (white and otherwise). Throughout my time at Yale, many people have asked me if I am a legal resident of the United States, as though they were somehow entitled to that information. Multiple friends have informed me that I am lucky to be Latina because it makes me more interesting. I don’t want to be a cool fetish; I want to speak and be heard. I want to be taken seriously.
I just want to write.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .