A few months ago, I got lunch with one of those people you hang out with at the beginning of Yale but not much during the middle. I met Jess at Columbia’s Prospie Days, where we mostly discussed Yale. We Skyped in July before we came here and exchanged emails and wrote each other Tumblr posts.
As Yale commenced, Jess pursued Greek life, and I hung out with people who wrote plays and built sets (not mutually exclusive, but different enough). In Atticus on a rainy September day, we caught up on the past three years, contextualizing each other’s snarky tweets that we had favorited earlier. Because we happen to be Latinas, we had some parallel experiences. I was amazed by how easily we could recognize the nuances of one another’s lives. It was like visiting a childhood friend’s home, where you know exactly what part of the drawer to find the forks.
In the last month, I’ve needed these kinds of connections. I was exhausted by communicating with people who just didn’t get it. And most of the time, the people that happened to be least understanding were white. Some people accuse me of “being racist” for making such a statement, but it’s just true.
During my four years here, I attributed my lack of involvement with La Casa to the demographics of Latinos on Yale’s campus, which are mostly composed of people with roots in the Caribbean and Central America. South American cultures are distinct from other Latin American countries and each other. Lumping us into one space isn’t entirely successful. All the cultural centers have similar divisions within their own walls, and those who fit into multiple ethnic categories struggle with choosing between the houses. It’s never easy to be considered an “other.”
I’ve talked to the press a lot this semester about my experiences. I would describe most of these interactions as positive, but I finished each conversation drained. I was speaking about my own experiences, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was speaking on behalf of everyone affected by racism in elite settings. I’ve felt this way many times, and it’s a burden that I carry in seminars and senior societies. One journalist asked me about people’s hesitance to even interact with the media — why don’t they just want to be heard?
To him and others, I say we’ve already been talking. We’re talking at bars and tombs and off-campus apartments. We’re talking at club meetings and academic offices. We’re talking and talking and talking, and maybe you haven’t heard us because you didn’t have to listen until now.
Instead, people ask us for proof. How does racism affect your everyday life? Um, have you ever taken an AP history class? Because everybody loves referencing the Iliad and ignoring Don Quixote.
How does sexism affect you? My answer: Google it and start reading.
Someone recently told me that she thinks people of color are sometimes alienating white people. This is probably true. What’s even truer is that this is just a fraction of the alienation that some of us face every day. And I just want to say to those who are upset and feel threatened: Deal with it.
I could be angry for the rest of my life. Part of me will always be angry. But I also want to happy and productive and listen to “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Mariah Carey on repeat. Being angry is consuming. I might dislike reading colonialist poetry by white men from New England, but sometimes that’s my homework, and I have to graduate with 36 credits.
I got a message from a childhood friend on Facebook this weekend. We haven’t spoken in years, but she said she’s been following the events at Yale, reading my posts and thinking of me. I haven’t answered yet, mostly because there’s so much I want to say. I want her to know that I’m writing a play and when I write, I imagine it taking place in the home she once inhabited: a lakeside apartment where I spent many nights watching Hugh Grant movies. Hearing from her, I was reminded of the kinship you feel with those you grow up with. These connections are the sorts we yearn for in trying times.
In an interview last year, the singer-songwriter A Fine Frenzy describes one of her songs as a tune about common human need. “We all want a witness to our life,” she said.
To me this means, we all deserve to be around people who understand us. We are meant to be truly seen.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .