Being the only multiracial graduate student amongst my classmates
Making a big life decision like pursuing my graduate degree in Chicago, IL where I had no family or friends available to me was one of the biggest gambles I’ve taken in my life. I never thought in uprooting my life and placing myself in a big city like Chicago I would end up feeling so culturally stifled within the four walls of my classroom. Surprise, not only was I one of three minorities out of our eleven person co-hort, but I was the only bi-racial member, and the only Hispanic. This was a realization that wasn’t only glaring obvious in the classroom, but also was a conflicted interpersonal issue I was trying to combat. I was alone in Chicago and there was nobody like me at the institution I’d committed myself to learning from for the next level of my education.
Moving outside the bubble that was my hometown of Killeen, Texas I learned with every city I explored and conquered that we were extremely unique in our diversity, racial acceptance, and cultural representation that a created beautifully mixed population. In San Antonio, I was bombarded with my Hispanic culture from each and every angle which I relished in because I wanted to perfect my Spanish and understanding of the traditional Hispanic upbringing that I was not raised with.
Luckily for me I had my best friend who is half Puerto Rican and Korean so I was not alone in feeling the realization that the multiracial bubble was smaller coming out of Killeen. I was very active as an undergraduate and involved in on campus groups as well as Greek life but being mixed was a constant reminder that I was not only aware of, but reminded of daily. Whether it was in conversation with people asking “What am I?” or having to explain the origins of myself from a physical attribute like my hair, it was a lingering concept that never disappeared.
When I made the decision to step outside of the world of Texas as I had come to know it and throw myself into Chicago I anticipated the joys of learning, growing, and immersing myself into all things graduate school could offer me. I wanted diversity and to explore the other parts of my ethnicities in an academic environment that I wasn’t necessarily afforded as an undergraduate. Much to my dismay the opposite of San Antonio happened in Chicago. The lack of racial diversity in my writing program was disheartening looking at my current co-hort and the previous/incoming classes surrounding us. I had three black classmates (2 women and 1 man) and I was the lone biracial member. While we all as students, individuals, and writers have combatted the need for authentic cultural representation in our classrooms, stories, and environment I felt an even heavier pressure.
There were personal aspects of my writing I wanted to explore such as bi-lingual characters, but I was dismayed to learn we had no Hispanic graduate staff to help guide or mentor me with my Spanish. I often found myself feeling conflicted about incorporating Spanish into my writing knowing I was going to have to explain translations and context to my classmates- a challenge I never had in San Antonio. It was hard explaining the world of my interracial relationships and multiracial characters to fellow classmates that had been void of biracial people in their upbringing and found the complexities of identity a hard concept to grasp. I never shied away from the challenge or apologized for it because the lack of education and representation of biracial characters in literature that aren’t the “mulatto,” figure is one of the driving reasons I chose to pursue my career as writer. Being the lone biracial student amongst a small sea of minorities at an art school that pales to the predominant white population can feel overwhelming at times. I don’t have the comforts of my best friend with me in this journey of my life who can sympathize with feeling out of place at times.
Being the only biracial member in my writing community can be disheartening at times, but I feel blessed and privilege to have the opportunity to share my story with others. Even though I can’t make the waves I want to in the lives of my classmates because let’s face it I can only speak for myself and my experience. Not only are there thousands of other multiracial blends in the world, but also their experiences are vastly different than my own. However; while I am here I remind myself of my purpose and what it is I want my writing to represent and the audience it speaks to. I will not feel guilty for placing extra work on my classmates for analyzing my Spanish and I will not step down from the challenge of showing the layers to biracial characters and the endeavors they face within their own cultures.