Here’s a piece by a student who speaks about his Hispanic & Queer identities and playing the “token minority”. I feel like many diverse students can feel like they are the token minority when applying to professional diversity programs. Comment if you have felt a similar way as this student or differently.
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Learning can be a funny thing. I got into one of the best schools in the nation because of what I “learned” growing up. In high school I could name every bone and muscle in the human body, recite Shakespeare, and recall the trig functions; no problem. “But you’re Spanish!” my white peers in AP English would exclaim when I got back the highest grade on our term paper. I would smile and shrug my shoulders; not because I was glad to be doing better than them, but glad that I might have the chance to finally fit in with them. I had learned how to be a good listener and a star student but I had not learned how to love myself.
My high school career consisted of me being the only Latinx person in most of my honors and AP classes and I learned my place: raise your hand and give a well thought-out, articulate argument when it was time to be serious, and roll your R’s and make a joke about your ethnicity when the white folks all needed a good laugh. My persona would shift between the smart brown kid white people would fetishize, take Betty Suarez from Ugly Betty, for instance, to the silly, lovable latino goof, like Fez from That 70’s Show.
I hated being poor. I hated having to speak Spanish to my parents out in public. I hated everything tough about being Latino, but embraced the comical, glamorous stereotypes that people in the media like Sofia Vergara reinforced . I was content being the comic relief, the brown sidekick to the white, blue-eyed superhero and I was content expressing my latinidad in a way that cultural critic Rey Chow would call “coercive mimeticism” or expressing my ethnicity to the level that white people deemed appropriate.
It was not until I got to college that I began to understand that I wasn’t happy being the token Hispanic. I did not pursue friendships with the problematic, privileged white people that my 14 year-old self would have loved to befriend. Though I would usually find humor or shrug it off, I wasn’t happy with the racist jokes that people in my freshman dorm would say nor was I happy when the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were met with indifference by these same people. My own self-hate not only had allowed these people to attack me, but it had also allowed them to validate their own bigotry and I finally stood up and called them out on their racist bullshit. Up until college I had lived my life as a two-dimensional character who would moderate my behavior and attitudes to please white people. Now, I felt anger and disappointment that I had no clue who I was without having white people as a frame of reference.
I ended up transferring to Cornell and found the space to learn more about myself. I found a friend group that provided a nurturing environment and a safe space to unlearn all of the internalized hate and racism I had grown up with. I learned to love myself, not as the token minority, but as the queer brown Latino that 14 year old me would not even imagine was a possibility.
My three years at Cornell have been a growing experience. As I learn more about the systemic racism and anti-blackness that are seen in the U.S. and on our own campus, I am also unlearning the years of self-hate I grew up with. Certainly, I have a lot to learn and unlearn, but learning to love myself, all of myself, was a good place to start.