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Beautifully Complex
by Ruben Gonzales


"I was able to juggle the cultures of being simultaneously Mexican and American, Indigenous and Spanish, Catholic and QV. As I learned more about these cultures and more about myself, the knowledge empowered me to see the ways in which these seemingly contradictions did not belittle either side of my identity, but served to make the whole beautifully complex."

I spent my first year and a half at Santa Clara University gliding blindly through my courses, doing only the barest minimum it took to get by, under the rash justification that my "real learning" in college would occur outside of the classroom. For the most part, I escaped these classes personally untouched.

For me, it was easier to learn from a conversation with another person than to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture that seemed lifetimes away from my own life as a young QV Chicano. I always had a gift of being able to connect with people through rich conversations where experiences were shared and ideas were challenged, and in a way that allowed me to see how the knowledge they shared could affect me as a person on an essential level. It was much more difficult for me to make the sometimes foreign academic world a part of me.

Model: JoseThis detachment I felt from my classes was punctured during the winter of my sophomore year when I enrolled in "Introduction to African-American Literature" with Professor Jacklyn Jones. This was the first time in my academic life that literature by non-Anglo writers was examined analytically and treated as more than just a side note to a larger movement. Professor Jones engaged the entire class in these amazing works by facilitating discussions in which the readings were viewed in relation to the contemporary issues facing an America where color lines remained the largest obstacle to the ideal of "all men being created equally" and other self-evident truths. She also helped us to view the readings in the context of broader universal truths.

Professor Jones' style of teaching allowed me, for the first time, to embrace what I was learning in the classroom as an integral part of my life. The words of writers such as W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Laurence Dunbar, became a means by which I could see myself. In The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois used the metaphor of a veil to describe the cruel and unjust situation under which African-Americans had to live.

My own existence was under two veils-a Mexican-American and an openly QV young man. Looking at myself through these veils, it seemed impossible to make peace between the seemingly contradictory ideals that exist in one brown body, and it seemed difficult to love myself because of the inherent contradictions that were a part of me.

In this world, where the veil allows only distorted images of one's identity, the lessons taught by these works become crucial in the ability to see one's essential self beneath the off-balanced and one dimensional portrayals that one receives through popular culture.

After this experience, I began to move through my courses with a new-found sense of consciousness. The lectures that I participated in and the books that I read came alive-fully taking me in. I saw how themes addressed in these classes existed beyond the confines of the classroom and it enriched the way I viewed my own life, the world at large, and the way in which I fit into that world.

With this spirit, I began to explore the writings of Chicanos in el movmiento, and the works of Chicana feminists, who challenged the patriarchy of el movmiento from within. I sought out both emerging and established writers and artists who examined the issues surrounding what it meant to be Chicano and QV or lesbian, such as the writings of Gloria Anzaldua. Like Anzaldua, I was able to juggle the cultures of being simultaneously Mexican and American, Indigenous and Spanish, Catholic and QV. As I learned more about these cultures and more about myself, the knowledge empowered me to see the ways in which these seemingly contradictions did not belittle either side of my identity, but served to make the whole beautifully complex. It was only through the conscious effort of studying these writings that I gained a type of a knowledge that I could apply to my examination of my essential nature, while staying wary of the self-images that I saw through the veil.

With this renewed sense of self, I am now able to actualize the truths that I know in my life. My first step in this process has taken the form of my participation in the Human Rights Campaign's Youth College, where along with twenty other young QV men and lesbians, I will be trained to work on either a Congressional or statewide ballot measure campaign. I will then work at the site of this campaign until election day. The HRC's Youth College is an excellent opportunity to live out the knowledge that I have gained in the classroom and through life's experiences.


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