Courtesy of Aaron Adame
Ever walk past a stranger on the paths of Cross Campus and wonder, “Who? Who are you?” Weekend does. Everyone at Yale has a story. Everyone has many stories. Here at Weekend, we want to know more. There’s the guy who sits at the same table in Atticus every afternoon, typing furiously. There’s the brunette swimming laps at the Payne Whitney pool. Everyday people, everyday lives. We want to know more. What’s going on under the surface? What’s the story behind the people you recognize, but never meet?
Weekend’s dutiful writers will profile anonymously-nominated members of the Yale community as part of this weekly series. Who will it be next? Check in next week to find out.
Aaron Adame ’20 was not impressed by JE’s Taco Tuesday. He picked up the limp flour tortilla, first with his fingers and then with his fork, before setting it back down and pushing his plate to the side.
“This is kinda terrible,” he admitted. “I miss tacos so bad. In Matamoros, there are taco stands on the side of the road where you can get really authentic Mexican food. So this is a pretty sad contrast.”
Matamoros is the city where Aaron’s maternal grandparents live and the destination of many trips throughout his life. His grandparents’ home is only half an hour away by car, but in an entirely different country. Aaron grew up San Benito, Texas, a small town on the banks of the Rio Grande in a region known as “the Valley.” The place he considers home reaches across the border into Mexico, where his extended family lives.
Aaron seems to always smile when he talks about the places where he grew up. “It’s all home, really,” he said. “Obviously, when we cross into Mexico, the world is really different … the streets are all cracked, even the telephone wires look messy. It looks a bit more unruly. Also, it has a weird smell. It looks very different, but home is just the same at my grandma’s house.”
Aaron occupies many liminal spaces, often living in a state of in-between. His home straddles national borders; he grew up as a middle child in a large family; he now splits his time between the separate worlds of urban Connecticut and rural South Texas.
Aaron described San Benito as “very homogenous,” with a population that is almost entirely Latinx. After immigrating from Mexico in the 1990s, his parents never learned English because they never needed to while living in a place where Spanish is often the dominant language. Aaron explained that coming to Yale exposed him to the most diverse set of people he had ever met. He encountered a new environment that presented both challenges and opportunities for growth.
“Coming into college, I knew I wanted to come to Yale to start new.” Aaron paused as if reinhabiting the person he was when he walked on to Old Campus four years ago. “High school was a mess. I was hiding my sexuality. I thought here I would be free to express myself.”
The Ivy League wasn’t on his radar until sophomore year of high school when he had to write an essay about where he wanted to go to college as an assignment for English class. He remembers shaking with nerves when he worked up the courage to tell his sisters about his ambitions to go to the East Coast. Aaron worked hard for the rest of high school, stacking his schedule with AP classes and singing in mariachi band after school. As a first-generation college student, he didn’t have much guidance through the application process. “I think I turned in my Common App the night it was due. I was really doing it all on my own,” he shrugged. “My parents have never been involved in my education. They just trusted that I would be responsible, which was nice, but I wish they were more involved. So I had to fill out everything myself. I didn’t know how to write an essay, so I remember Googling ‘exemplary college essays.’”
Yale presented Aaron with many new opportunities, including the chance to immerse himself in his studies of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and the space to explore his identity. He recalled, “By spring semester freshman year, I think I was much more comfortable with my sexaulity, telling people, ‘yeah, I’m gay.’” It wasn’t until the end of his sophomore year that he took the step of coming out to his parents—over text. “It was kinda a bad move,” he said with a slight laugh.
Aaron was not met with immediate support. His father wanted to take him out of Yale, and his mother simply said, “Me has puesto muy mal” — or, “You have made me feel very bad.” Because Aaron is only able to go home twice a year, it took a while for him to speak openly about his sexuality with his parents. “[My mom and I] finally had a real conversation about when I got these piercings,” he said, toying with the black stud in his ears, “because it was kind of a symbol to her that it’s real. So she got mad at me, told me to take them off. She was petty after that, like she wouldn’t let me play music in the car, but after a while, she came around to it. She gave me a hug, told me she loved me, and that was nice.”
Aaron’s coming out took place in an already-strained family situation. His parents went through a divorce during his first year of college, all spurred by an incident that took place the night before he flew to Yale for the first time. He explained, “My mom told me to print out these AT&T records from online, and I was like, “Why?” And she said because my dad was texting this random number. It was 27 pages of text messages and calls that my dad had made to this number at three in the morning. She goes to my dad’s room, and kicks him out.” When he came home for Christmas, his dad had already moved out and the divorce proceedings had begun.
“My family is so broken,” Aaron stated plainly. “Sometimes, this person will talk to this person and my mom will call this sister but the other sister won’t call and my brother isn’t talking to my dad. It’s a mess.” As the third of five children, he was often called upon to serve as the mediator. As Aaron described it, the Adame family is diverse bunch: the eldest brother is a stereotypical macho man, there’s one sister who is a devout Jevovah’s Witness, and another who is currently living at home and commuting to a community college. Despite the different lives they lead, Aaron characterized his relationship with all his siblings as close, showing me the memes they share in a Snapchat group as he spoke about the unique bond he shares with each member of his family.
Aaron has many stories to tell, both experiences he has lived and tales that have been passed down through his family. Recently, he has discovered writing as a tool to share these stories and find meaning in them for himself. He’s taking English 120 this semester in hopes of developing his technique. “My writing’s kind of terrible,” he said, “but I know I’m going to get better.” So far, his favorite piece is one he just finished about the Valley, which gave him the opportunity to research the history of the southern border and rediscover his home through writing.
As a senior, Aaron has felt a little more reflective about how the Valley and his family and Yale and all the pieces of his life have shaped the person he is today. After living 21 years in between spaces, he’s learned that everyone has a story. His big take away? “Never take anything at face value. There’s always more behind the person, there’s always a story behind their actions. There’s a history. There’s a reason why things happen.” And he’s living this wisdom in the best way he can: by sharing his own life, his own history over a mediocre Yale Dining taco.
Elizabeth Hopkinson | firstname.lastname@example.org