A few weeks ago, I was invited to a party by a friend who goes to Harvard. “We can go to Felipe’s afterwards,” she said. “It’s a Harvard spot.” That made me laugh — I’ve been going to Felipe’s for years.
I’m from Cambridge, Massachusetts, born and raised. I’ve spent my share of time around Harvard. When I was a baby, I used to help my aunt Lynn make her syllabi, one at a time, waddling back and forth between pressing the copy button and grabbing the freshly printed page, while my mother gave her lectures. The Museum of Natural History was one of my favorite field trip spots in middle school. I used to cut through the yard as a teenager to get from the train station in Harvard Square to Cambridge Rindge and Latin.
All of this is to say that I feel a certain familiarity with Harvard, even though I ended up going to a much better school. In some ways, I feel like I know the place better than many Harvard students. Cambridge is my hometown, I know the square like the back of my hand, and Felipe’s is an old classic to me. But there’s also a certain feeling of separation, of looking in from the outside. I don’t go to Harvard, after all. I’ve walked through the yard, but I haven’t lived in the dorms. I know Cambridge, and I’ve spent time around Harvard, but not in Harvard.
Last year, when I was at the game in Cambridge, I remember looking around Harvard Stadium and thinking about how many times I’d been in those stands. When I rowed, we used to run stadiums there. After hours, I would climb the fence with my best friends, and we would discuss current events and drink strictly nonalcoholic beverages. Those moments felt a bit like glancing in from the outside. We borrowed the stadium to work out or hang out, but it wasn’t our stadium. But at the game, I felt like it was finally my stadium. There I was, with my classmates, taking part in one of those Ivy League rituals, now as a made man. And truthfully, a not-so-small part of me felt like the stadium belonged to me more than it did to anyone else in the stands. Because I was back home, I knew the town and now had the gown to match.
I didn’t end up getting into Harvard, and I’m happy about that. No offense, but our parties, dining halls, dormitories, etc. (I could go on but there is a word limit here) are better. Jokes aside, I’m grateful that I got to attend college more than ten minutes away from my parents. (Sorry Mama and Baba!) I’m glad that I get to discover New Haven with my classmates. But it makes me wonder how natives of New Haven feel about “Yale spots.” What does Good Nature Market mean to them? What about Toad’s? Trinity?
To me, what makes them “Yale spots” is that I have fond memories of going to them. But I’ve only been here for a year and some change, and I’ll only be here for a grand total of four years. So really, who am I to decide what a place in New Haven is? That said, when my friend visits for the game, I’ll be sure to show her one place that absolutely is a Yale spot: Pierson College. Sorry, Maya, but we wash Mather House.
MILAN SINGH is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column, “All politics is national,” runs fortnightly. Contact him at milan.singh.@yale.edu.