The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor



This past week I was walking to the JRC after class when I ran into someone that I had met a few days ago. We began chatting, asking how each other’s days were going, even though it was only 10 a.m. and I had woken up an hour ago. I don’t remember how we got on the topic, but somehow we began talking about Posse. I told them what it was, who was in my Posse, and my experiences so far. Then, right as they crossed 8th Avenue to go to class in Noyce, they asked me, “what’s it like being the only white person in Posse?” Unable to answer, I pretended not hear them amid all the noise and walked into the JRC. I immediately began to feel an emotion I was all too familiar with, so I frantically began to look for a distraction, repeatedly telling myself “don’t let it happen…don’t let it get you” — but it was too late. Desperate to regain control, I reached into my pocket and grabbed my phone. With blurred vision and trembling hands, I quickly tried to call my father. Voicemail. I try again. One ring. “Please pick up.” Three rings. “Please, dad.” Five rings. Pause, and a second later I hear my father’s familiar greeting, “Hola, Carlitos.” We proceeded to have a conversation we have become far too acquainted with; one that concerned not only the consequences of my parents’ decision to bring me into this world, but also a challenge they raised me to confront.

I have talked about my “racial ambiguity” with my parents quite often, and every conversation ends with the same piece of advice: “Don’t ever let the need to fit in keep you from being proud of who you are.” I often forget my parents’ simple words and allow myself to get stranded in the ebb and flow of my racialization, lost in the thought that I will never be “Latino enough” or “white enough.” But the point is not to find where I belong or seek a group that will accept me. Rather, I am responsible for giving voice to the complex history of my family that is often masked by my ever-racialized skin color.

My father is the eldest son of two and lived most of his life in Retalhuleu, a small town in Guatemala. My mother was born and raised in rural New Hartford, Connecticut. She is a middle child of five, and lived with her two parents on an apple orchard for much of her life. Both my father and my mother overcame the financial and educational hardships they faced growing up and accomplished their dreams of becoming the first people in their families to go to college. After finishing her Master’s degree, my mother joined the Peace Corps and was placed in Guatemala. It was during her time in Guatemala that she would meet my father and eventually get married, despite everyone’s disapproval. Around their mid-30s, my father received an award to study at Cornell University, so my parents temporarily moved to Ithaca, New York and lived there for two years before returning to Guatemala. It was during these two years that I was born, and it was only be a few years later until my brother, Stefan, was born in a small hospital in Antigua, Guatemala. My family lived in Guatemala for six years before moving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we would live for two years. After these two years, we all moved to Maputo, Mozambique, where we would stay for two and a half years before moving to the United States in 2009.

After years of hard work, underserving support, and a little bit of luck, I became a Posse scholar and actualized my dream to go to college. Yet, I was unaware of how challenging Grinnell was going to be. Semester after semester, I struggled to endure the pain as my family’s story and sacrifices, which I so proudly carried on my back, were violently stripped away by the relentless grip of racialization.

Grinnell College often feels like a place strangled by race — a force that disguises inequality and racism by dominating the way we perceive the world and each other. It’s like a coloring book, where we try to fill in each picture day by day, disregarding the nuance and importance within each page. However, my skin color speaks little for my lived experiences. As long as you racialize my existence, you will forever fall short of getting the answer you so desperately want. I guess that’s why I frantically try to escape anytime someone tries to categorize my existence; I want to hold onto to the story of my family and the sacrifices they made to give me this opportunity. I don’t fulfill the illusion of race that filters your perspective, but I’m tired of feeling like I must. Next time I’m walking with you to the JRC, look at the picture before you start coloring it in, or better yet, put down the crayon and just listen.

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