On average, a city block in New Haven, CT is 264 feet long. Most will visualize the prestige of roaming the Yale campus. For me however, embedded in these 264 feet can be evidence of oppression and sacrifice. Each side of the block represents a great divide between two subsets of America’s current reality. An oriented community with the benefits of sustaining values of higher education is on one side of the block. While the other, illustrates the rough reality of the working-class environment.
I live in a neighborhood surrounded by people who look like me, think like me, and express themselves like me. I never had feelings of shame or embarrassment for my culture. This feeling always felt serene and integrated within me. Simply, in this block that I live in, I am myself.
Navigating through high school presented new opportunities for personal growth and self-awareness through exposure to new beliefs, opinions, and ideas. I became more conscious of my environment and keenly aware of the racial disparity between my old friends and new friends. I took it upon myself to befriend those who took classes similar to mine, took the same exams, and those who were seated next to me. Over time, I found that I began to adopt the ideas of the cultural majority and behave like them to counteract the growing inner dialogue that I needed to change who I was in order to fit in. I started comparing myself and competing with them. I thought this was right – I aspired to be them. I realized, however, that this superficial social acceptance offered was nothing more than a false sense of comfort.
Despite growing up within feet of each other, my classmates and I had differences and origins hundreds of miles away. And to assimilate to one's culture means to erase another, I felt I had no other choice. My identity felt granulated. My motivation to succeed in this environment felt like it came at the cost of leaving behind my prior sense of humor, vocabulary and self-identity in favor of adopting new ones.
There was not a sudden change in my character – it was only when I took a trip to Ecuador, that I realized I no longer felt like I belonged to my own community. The same country I used to adore now felt distant. My Spanish was distinct from my family, I could no longer dance to the rhythm of my Mom’s favorite songs, and I failed to cultivate meaningful connections with relatives that did not speak English.
There is an invisible but profound barrier between my side of the block and theirs. Overcoming this barrier does not mean you succeed like you would a test. Instead, for me it compares to being embellished in lamb’s wool. Feeling lost only creates a blank space; losing a
sense of identity creates confusion. The flow of my culture is still within me, I still represent my parent’s intuition and struggles. However, I remain a representation of the many flaws of American society. This loss in culture and identity discourages members of my block from crossing to the other side. I once thought overcoming this obstacle was a sign of weakness and betrayal to my side. I now see it as an obligation to my community.
The sense of failing to mitigate the change within myself has driven me to become a medium between my old block and new. My motivation and hunger for higher education has forced me to mold into my undiversified environment. This transition between two sides of the same block is a common and disorienting experience that many first-generation students face. My goal is to make this leap so that maybe one day, another person much like myself, will not feel they have to sacrifice their self-identity to feel successful in America.