Jorge L.
Brown University
Providence, RI

My Experience as a Minority in an Ivy League University

Growing up in Santa Fe and going to Capital High school, I had always been around people that I could identify with in terms of my culture and background. I never really had to explain or even wonder why I was the way I am because everyone else was sort of similar. So when I decided to go to school on the East coast, I knew that I would have to be prepared for big changes.

When I moved to Brown University I never really thought about how I, as a minority, would fit in at an institution that has a history of elitism, a school built by white people and for white people. White privilege, racism, classism; these were all things that I knew about but never really fully understood because I grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by people who were more or less like me. Their parents were Mexican, they spoke Spanish, went to public schools and worked jobs to help out in the house. Then all of a sudden I’m going to school with the children of CEOs and people who have never really interacted with people of color. It was definitely a weird feeling to think that I was in the U.S. and still having culture shock. Everything was different about these people; from the way they dressed to the way the talked. Nobody ever told me how an Ivy League university really works because I was never supposed to make it that far. Regardless of that I tried my hardest to make the best out of the opportunity I had been given. But all the while I still missed my family, my home, my friends and the feeling of just belonging.

I found that joining a group and just really keeping myself busy was a good way to distract myself from feeling sad or stressed. I think I just naturally found myself attracted to Latino culture groups because I was missing home so much.

In the Alianza Latina our goal is to get people on campus to be more aware of several issues that affect Latinos. We have been working on an immigration awareness campaign to teach people on campus about this very important issue that affects millions of people in the U.S. I was surprised to learn that this issue is not as well known here in New England, or at least it’s not as prevalent as it is in New Mexico. Trying to get people aware of your opinions here at Brown can sometimes be easy but other times it can be quite hard. For example you have to be careful in the way you express yourself so as not to offend anyone. Other times you have to compete against other groups. Activism is definitely something that is huge here at Brown, so as an activist you are always in competition for the attention of the students on campus. Everyone is passionate about something. It’s really great to hear all of these opinions but sometimes it can be quite hard to get your own voice heard because everyone else is also trying to speak.

While I enjoy the activism aspect of this group, I think that what I really enjoy the most is just being around other Latinos. It’s just great to be able to speak Spanish with them, or talk about the foods we miss and share stories of our families. I know that if I ever had a problem they would understand me and support me. The Mexican-American community at Brown is small, but that just makes our group much closer.

When you are at home you tend to take your culture for granted because that is all you know that exists, but then when you move into a totally different world you start to miss it. I decided that I needed to find every possible way to stay in touch with it.

That’s why I decided to join groups like La Alianza Latina at Brown. I knew that there I would find people who were like-minded and passionate about something that I could understand. It really made Brown feel a little bit more like home.

Going to school at Brown University has been a real life changing experience; it’ so different being in a new part of the country. It can get hard sometimes but overall I have had a great time. I think that Brown is a great school and has a lot to offer, but it is definitely not perfect. The best thing you can do for yourself and others like you is to make it better whether it is through activism or some other way. Anyplace where you feel like you don’t belong, you can at least find other people who are like you and together make it better.