As a child, I never found myself in situations where I felt what it meant to be “Latina”. Yes, my first language was Spanish, my skin tone was a deep color of caramelo, I had long dark brown hair with the same color of eyes to match, but that never kept me from thinking that I was any different. In fact, majority of the kids in my class had skin tones, eyes and hair color that resembled mine, and while some knew how to speak Spanish and others didn’t, I didn’t think of them any differently. We all shared a pretty common culture.
In a region where Latinxs comprised about 90% of the population, I felt like I was a part of a big and inclusive community unique to South Texas. I was essentially a part of the majority, and because of this, it wasn’t until I decided to move 1,500 miles away from home for college when I was made cognizant of my identity as a minority and as a Latina. Needless to say, I was gullible and naïve enough to believe that this sudden change was not going to challenge my way of thinking about myself and my identity within this new context, and I was undoubtedly wrong. Being a part of the minority from one day to the next introduced me to a different way of experiencing the world. Suddenly, I was finding myself to be the only Latina in some of my classes. It was taking relatively longer to walk by another “possible Latinx” on my way to class. And I was coming across concepts that began to feel applicable as I began to develop my perspective as a “minority.”
One of the very first concepts that I quickly learned about was “white privilege.” I didn’t understand the implications the phrase entailed until I began to undermine my own successes and my own determination to succeed as the days passed by at Duke. I assumed white privilege was an allusion to corporate America, and that eventually, this predominantly white sector would embrace diversity and white privilege would, without a doubt, be eradicated. Basically, I assumed this concept was losing its power, and because I was at a liberal and hyper-intellectual institution, I didn’t think to ever come across people who felt the need to exercise their “white privilege.”
It wasn’t until I began to hear comments such as, “It helped that you are Latina” and “Your ethnicity group doesn’t need as high test scores” that I quickly realized what white privilege was. White privilege is believing you are inherently better than others simply because you are white. White privilege is ignoring the underlying oppressive structures because they don’t oppress you. Ultimately, white privilege is all of the reasons I felt like I did not belong at Duke. I knew that I did not need to prove anyone anything, but when some people make it clear that they see you through a lens that attributes your accomplishments to the color of your skin, how can you try to prove to them that you are in fact deserving of the same opportunities and just as capable as them?
The truth of the matter is that it’s impossible. I’ve learned to realize that I can’t be proving myself all the time just so that I can show people what I am capable of. I shouldn’t be constantly questioning my accomplishments and my own intellectual ability for the sake of other people. I have rightfully earned my place within the prestigious buildings of academia, and it does not matter if white privilege makes some people think otherwise. My identity as a Latina on campus has made me aware of implicit biases, of the blatantly obvious racial inequality, and the systematic oppression that not even elite institutions are immune to. And just like every other person of color who is aware of our plight to a more diverse and inclusive society, I have acknowledged how critically important it is to work together towards our vision. Like Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez states in her Dear Woke Brown Girl Article, “[We] have not forgotten where [we] come from, but have learned and earned [our] way into spaces not meant for [us]. Spaces that are uninviting to [our] kind. [We] are [poderosas] like that. [Our] vocabulary is vast and [our] wit is sharp. [We] are unstoppable.”