Being Latina at a Predominantly White Institution
Being a Latina at a predominantly white institution can be challenging and sometimes discouraging. I remember the first time I stepped foot onto campus at a predominantly white institution. I was nervous, yet so excited! I was ready to embark on a new journey in a place full of opportunities and make connections.
However, with time, I began to experience the neglect of others towards me for being who I am, as if being Latina was some kind of stain I had that made others treat me differently. As a Latina — born and raised in the Dominican Republic, yet granted the privilege of being recognized as an American citizen — I felt like I did not belong to any group or identify with any of them.
The environment felt competitive, as if the "survival of the fittest" culture was a rush that encouraged students to excel. Classism was also prevalent at my institution. I found myself surrounded by people who I shared so many commonalities with, yet was segregated due to social status.
Everyone else had their own community. For instance, sororities and fraternities had their own nest, international students stuck together based on region, athletes shared their pride in sports, people of color were united by their struggles and accomplishments, and Latinos born and raised in the United States were a group of their own.
Don't get me wrong, groups sometimes blended. But when it came to their union, they would stick together like birds of feathers. There is so much to my identity that, no matter what group I tried assimilating to, I did not feel like I belonged. I felt quite lonely and not understood. The institution did not offer me the home that I was expecting to have, nor did it provide me with the warmth and community I was so looking forward to attaining. I was always afraid of letting my voice be heard because I feared rejection, being made fun of, or feeling incompetent.
Although I did not have much of a social life, I was always diligent with my studies. But being in a classroom where most of my classmates were white males — while I was one of the only women of color — felt quite intimidating.
In this pivotal moment, I had to learn to take ownership of my uniqueness and assume the responsibility of working harder than others to excel and be recognized.
In this pivotal moment, I had to learn to take ownership of my uniqueness and assume the responsibility of working harder than others to excel and be recognized. I had to earn my seat at the table and enlighten individuals about my unique experiences. I wanted others to understand where I came from and everything I had to overcome to get to where I am today. I had to demonstrate my capacity to accomplish anything I wished to attain by letting my voice be heard, despite my fear.
I realized that I had to be brave and give power to my voice, while also inviting commentary with respect and intelligence, no matter how preposterous comments might be. Many people tried to shut off my light, but I did not let them. I knew that I had to trust myself and become resilient, no matter the circumstances.
Although the power of believing in myself was stronger than I ever could've imagined, it did not happen overnight. Indeed, it took me time and self-evaluation to set my priorities straight and build confidence. I had to prioritize my needs and understand that there are things beyond my control. After that realization, I began to focus on things I could control and not let anybody disturb my peace.
It was not until recently that I realized the strength that grew in me after encountering those obstacles. The times of adversity gave me the strength and courage I needed to share my story. Although those hardships nearly devastated me, I learned to take them with a grain of salt and began to see things differently.
I began to focus on the sweetness of the tamarind rather than the bitterness. Even though not everything was rainbows and unicorns for me, I was able to connect with a few individuals. I was able to meet amazing people who lent me a shoulder to cry on and cherished me with joyful laughter in moments of agony. They allowed me to express my true self without judgment and gave me the strength to thrive.
I was also able to seek comfort from college mentors who helped bring out the best in me and encouraged me to speak my truth. Without them, I would not have let my light shine. I would not be the resilient, confident young woman I am today. Although the institution took me on a long, unexpected, scary ride, I can say that it also allowed me to develop a stronger mindset and the ability to overcome unimaginable struggles.
I can now say that coming to a predominantly white school has been the best thing that has happened to me — not just because of the good moments, but because without the tough life lessons learned throughout the journey, I would not have accomplished so many milestones, which gave power to my voice.
Every chapter of our lives eventually has an ending. But remember that to every ending, there's a new beginning. This version of me, which I have finally given light to, is just the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
I am proud of my evolution. And all Latinos who've had the courage to overcome such struggles with their heads up should also be proud. At the end of the day, we should have the courage to tell our stories, no matter how different they are. And we should pat ourselves on the back for showing the willingness to be brave and pursue the most unattainable dreams.
As a first-generation college student and Latina woman, I am proud of myself for everything I have been through and for the things I aim to accomplish. Without a doubt, I can say that after a heavy storm comes the rainbow. And when you realize your value and take pride in your work and authenticity, you will feel empowered to do anything. As a reminder: Los Latinos Si Podemos!
Meet the Author
Nicole Espinal is a senior at Bentley University. She aims to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor of science in business management and a liberal studies major in diversity and society with a concentration in leadership and a minor in psychology.
As a first-generation college student, she seeks to become a role model for her siblings and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Nicole is also the vice president of the student organization La Cultura Latina at Bentley University, where she hopes to motivate the Latinx community to embrace, celebrate, and advocate for Latin/Hispanic culture. Her goals include starting her own business and devoting time to serving others. Nicole is passionate about civic engagement and intends to travel the world targeting societal issues and spreading awareness. With her diligence and perseverance, she is eager to build her career, work towards personal and professional goals, and ultimately become a better human being.