The yelling of the tamale lady as she makes her daily round, mothers clamoring at their children in Spanish as they rush off to school, corridos blasting proudly through the traffic-ridden streets… these are the sounds of my neighborhood, and it was all I knew, until I began the next chapter of my life at the University of Redlands.
Now that I am a senior, looking back at my underclassman days, adapting to college life wasn’t easy. The quiet tranquility initially led me to an inner chaos and disorder, as I was accustomed to the opposite environment. It wasn’t until I began talking to others, learning about the area, and embracing my heritage that I truly became satisfied with my experience as a Bulldog.
As the sole member of my high school class attending the U of R, I struggled to find my place at the school, shocked by the large diversity of opinions, races and cultures of my classmates and professors. But once I embraced our differences, I began to see them as family.
Growing up in East Los Angeles, I wasn’t used to the same sort of diversity that we see in Redlands. I am Hispanic, and growing up, most of my peers were as well. We shared similar traditions, beliefs and cultures, and while I enjoyed having such a tight-knit family around me, I wanted to meet people from different cultures, while still having the comfort of home.
When I chose the University of Redlands, I knew that none of my friends would join me. I knew that I would leave a life of familiarity and comfort behind. “Échale ganas,” everyone around me used to say. As a first-generation student of color, I carried my family’s hopes of success on my shoulders, knowing that life outside the barrio wasn’t always warm-hearted and accepting.
The summer before my freshman year, I became increasingly nervous at the thought that everything I knew would soon leave me. What if the people there reject me? What if I can’t fit in? I didn’t want to be an outsider; I simply wanted someone at school to relate to.
Upon arriving on campus, I didn’t know how to interact with others. I couldn’t start conversations because I didn’t know what to talk about. Despite speaking the same language, I couldn’t fit into any social group. No one was there to guide me, and I was forced to figure everything out by myself.
I continued to hold onto my thoughts and beliefs the first few months of school. I was intimidated by everyone else, and I felt like they didn’t want to open their doors to me. Yet, I desired connection – a connection to a group I felt was like myself – but I couldn’t find the courage to search.
Despite my discomforts, I began to reach out to others, not knowing what to expect. My Cross Country teammates were extremely accepting, and while I didn’t understand all their jokes or slang, I kept making conversation. I also decided to attend TRAINN, the leadership retreat that helps freshman make friends and learn more about themselves and those around them. At TRAINN, I met many people with differing backgrounds in an intimate environment. All these people listened to me, appreciated what I had to contribute to the group, and ultimately helped me grow as a person.
Over time, I learned to love the social discomfort of my environment. It was exciting not knowing what to expect from people. I told stories to new friends about how back home we would buy delicious tacos and quesadillas from street vendors, take the Metro everywhere, and admire the many colorful and detailed murals around town, each with its rich appreciation for Latino culture. It was fun to let people know about my hometown and then learning about theirs.
Once I grew comfortable on campus, I began to explore the city, and to my surprise, I found places that reminded me of home. Redlands Ranch Market had the same ambience as my local hometown supermarket. El Tepeyac cooked up some of my favorite Mexican dishes, and La Michoacana served up some delicious nieve de limon. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends about the next best Taco Tuesday spot.
I became proud of who I am and where I come from. I wanted to bring as much to the Redlands table as I can while expressing myself as openly as possible. Being Hispanic is something to be proud of.
Now, as a senior, I don’t mind sharing my culture with friends and colleagues. I like recommending lesser-known Mexican food when we go out to eat. I’ll sing Suavemente any day of the week! It’s all about learning about cultures and what makes them so great. I love sharing my family’s traditions and quirks, as sharing them helps everyone appreciate what makes us all unique.
As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, regardless of where we come from, we should all share and celebrate how our backgrounds have shaped us to be the people we are today. Let’s not be afraid to share our hometown customs. Besides, in the end, we’re not that much different from each other – we simply have something unique to share with everybody. 🌶
photos contributed by author, David Galindo