A 21-year-old pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Government with Honors from Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Are there many other Latinos at your school? Latinos comprise about 7% of the population at Harvard College. Latinos on campus come from various ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. Once on campus and away from our local communities, there is a shared motivation among Latino students to explore our ethnic identity and define for ourselves what it means to be Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban American, or Colombian American. A questioning of cultural values within a rigorous and intellectually stimulating environment provides common ground for Latinos on campus to relate to each other despite differences in their personal backgrounds.
There is a strong number of Latino organizations on campus including a bi-annual literary journal, Nuestra Voz, that is dedicated to providing a forum for the Latino voice on the Harvard campus.
Are there many other Latinos at your school? There are not enough QV students of color, period. I'm one of a handful of Latinos on campus and probably the most open and active in the queer community. Despite the fact that Latinos comprise one of the smallest minorities on campus, there could be more out QV students even from within the present population of Latinos on campus.
How are you involved in the the community? I am the Co-Director of one of five peer counseling groups sponsored by our university health services. We have both a hotline and a drop-in service that focus on dealing with issues of sexual orientation, sexuality, and relationships. We also conduct outreach to all Harvard first-years that deal with sexual orientation. For over a year, I was the director of the upper-class confidential discussion group for QV, lesbian, bisexual and questioning students. I am also an active member of Bisexual, QV, Lesbian, Transgendered, Straight Alliance (BGLTSA).
I've chosen to involve myself in activities related to my career interests and to be out in whatever organization of which I am a member. I have served on the executive board for one of the largest student organizations on campus-not to mention one of the most conservative. I just completed a trip to Panama where we organized a government simulation for over 250 Central American students. Last year, I was the President of a literary magazine dedicated to publishing the work of talented Latinos on campus.
I look at my involvement in these organizations to be as crucial as those activities that are directly related with queer issues. There is an important role to play for a student that is both proud of being QV and proud of being Latino. I constantly have the opportunity to break down stereotypes and raise awareness on the attitude of students as well as add another perspective to a number of different topics. Taking a passive role as a queer student of color within student groups is not enough to create change in organizations that thrive on exclusivity and conservatism. I see a fine line between those that perpetuate damaging attitudes against the queer community and those that work to combat them.
What does knowledge mean to you? To me, knowledge is a means to an end. Acquiring knowledge allows you to understand the different options that are available and the capacity to have as complete of an awareness of your surroundings as possible. The key to pursuing these two ideals is education. I understand education to be a broad project throughout the process of living.
Knowledge should be important beyond the social constructions that compel us to earn degrees at institutions of higher learning. Knowledge about your surroundings also comes with taking one's life seriously and embracing every personal experience as a learning experience that enables us to do things better or differently in the future. Part of the awareness I refer to is also connected to having the ability to understand the social factors that impact our lives and the role that we play in the changing face of our community, city, country. Knowledge about the political system, the way resources are distributed, and the way the decisions of others affect our lives is critical to determining what actions one needs to take to have ownership for our individual futures. Knowledge presents us with options, increases our choices, and allows us to see the obstacles before us. Knowledge alone is ineffectual, however. Knowledge must meet confidence, ambition, and a willingness to do better.
How did you get into your college? One can hardly answer this questions without using a phrase like, "with hard work and strong grades in high school." Those are essential components of having been accepted. Doing well in high school and even earlier cannot be over stressed. However, I would also like to think that Harvard noticed my honesty and my desire to overcome my socioeconomic circumstances, that the officers in the Admissions Office realized my ambition was larger than the resources made available to me through the public education I received. I firmly believe that I was given the best opportunity to realize my potential at the college level.
Looking back, I was naive about the tremendous competition that is involved during the application process. I was fortunate enough to have taken advantage of the many opportunities that crossed my path while in high school, so that by the time I applied to college, I was able to present a strong portfolio of accomplishments.
There is more. I was able to go to Harvard due to the unending love and support I have received from my mother and father. I have also received tremendous support from individuals in my community. My college experience is, in many aspects, a community effort and my successes and failures are not isolated experiences.
How has your college experience been as a student? Overall, my college experience has been life-changing. More than learning about different subject matters, I have grown in my writing (I hope!) and analytical skills. More than meeting a lot of people of different backgrounds and experiences, I have made life-long friends that stimulate me intellectually and continue to challenge my attitudes about everything under the sun.
How has your college experience been as a Latino? I can hardly separate my life as a student from that as a Latino. It has been a liberating experience to be open about being QV. I have been on the board of Mexican American student organizations on campus. Over the course of my involvement in the leadership of the organization, I made an effort to be vocal about challenging traditional attitudes in the Latino community regarding gender and sexuality, and about family and religion. More specifically, I have made an effort to create a space for queer Latinos within the organization and the larger Latino community on campus.
I see my presence within the QV community on campus as a way of introducing the issue of race in our discussion on queer rights. There is a lot of work to be done within our queer student organization on connecting the idea that QV rights, like many other rights, are directly associated with privilege and skin color.
Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now? What are your long term goals? After graduating from Harvard College, I plan to attend law school. I would like to focus on international law and immigration. I don't think we can fully predict the tremendous impact the increasing Latino population in the United States will have on all facets of our country's landscape as we enter the 21st Century. I want to take advantage of the need for Latinos to be represented before our court system by capable lawyers who understand, as well as appreciate, cultural values. According to some studies, only 2% of the lawyers in the United States are Hispanic.
My long-term goal is to seek an elected office. I would like to have the honor of representing my community in Los Angeles at the local, and eventually, the national level. As a Latino, I know that the first step in pursuing a political career is to develop a strong sense of identity and vision for what is important. I am to be respected for who I am-my honesty and self-respect should not be sacrificed.
What advice do you have for our younger Latino hermanos regarding education? Look at education as a vehicle for greater things. Know that we do not have a choice about the resources that we are born with, but that everyone has the potential to overcome adversity and realize their dreams. Recognize the educational value in everything you do. Take advantage of every opportunity that crosses your path, whether it's volunteering for a position of leadership or accepting another assignment at school. Initiative and interest is always recognized and guaranteed to open doors of opportunity you cannot imagine.
With education we come to understand that we do not live our lives in isolation. That our actions are always affecting other people, and that the talent and beauty within each of us is meant to be shared with others.
Take pride in being QV and Latino. Know that our identity as Latinos is meant to be appreciated and celebrated with others, that the center of our dual identity is made of the thing that can make each of us rise from the darkest corner into the brightest point of our lives: love.
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