Culture and College

It took me about a month living in Boston to really think about how different the people and culture are from those back home. I lived in San Antonio, Texas until this August, when I started my time at Emerson. Which means that even though as a Latina I’ve always technically been an ethnic minority in the United States, I’ve never felt like one in my own home. San Antonio is 63% Latinx, and growing up surrounded by my own culture wasn’t something I noticed, it was just apart of my daily life. It wasn’t rare to hear people speaking Spanish in public or in school, and there was always Mexican food around—if not at ridiculously good restaurants, then at the paleta truck that parked itself outside my high school, anticipating hungry students every afternoon. I didn’t consciously think about these things at the time, but after living at Emerson for a while, I definitely noticed the absence of them. Knowing that the little pieces of culture that make up my hometown aren’t as prevalent in Boston has definitely made me feel an odd sense of homesickness, almost like I’m on vacation.

I know the feeling of suddenly being thrown into a world where it seems like no one looks like you, or can relate to you because of your ethnic background. This change in dynamics affects students of color in so many different ways, including ones that I personally have yet to experience.

Eryn McCallum ‘22, a black journalism major from a predominantly black area of Chicago says, “I feel like here, I feel a certain pressure to make sure that I find black friends. And I didn’t feel that in high school. I guess because maybe I had already came in with them… but here, whenever I see other black girls, or other black girls see me, they’re like, ‘Hi, you’re black, we should be friends!’ We’re surrounded mostly by people who are not black or brown usually, so we just feel like the sense of community needs to be built somehow.”

Many students can feel the natural awareness of your ethnicity or race when stepping onto a predominantly white college campus. Liza Xiao ‘22, a marketing major from Shanghai, explains the feeling of needing to navigate being a person of color in college. She says, “Sometimes I don’t feel super comfortable staying with a bunch of Chinese kids, because when we stick together, we don’t speak English, and that’s exactly a stereotype for most Asians, that we don’t interact with other people. Even though I personally feel super comfortable around them, I don’t feel comfortable in this big environment.”

When I went to my first meeting for AMIGOS, Emerson’s student organization for Latin and Hispanic culture, it felt so odd to think that this was the first time since move-in that I had been in a place where Latinx students were the majority. And sure enough, I finally felt a sense of community. This feeling that even though we didn’t know each other well yet, we clearly all had something in common. This rediscovering of who I am as a Latina since I’ve been here has been incredibly new to say the least, but it’s also been exciting! McCallum says that in the end “navigating being happy with yourself is a huge thing. It’s part of your self journey when you’re a minority in anything.” And it’s true, exploring this new world of what it means to be a minority in college is a lot, for me, and for many other students of color. But maybe if we do this together, and embrace the fact that we’re all dealing with varying degrees of culture shock, we can make the experience as comfortable as possible.

Photography by Abbey Finn