A place without walls

Alien on Campus

There are no walls surrounding UC Berkeley.

When I arrived on this campus, that was the first thing I noticed. This may not seem unusual to some people, but for me, it was a little shocking. I was surprised by how different UC Berkeley was to the university that I might have attended back in Monterrey, which was heavily guarded with gates and security.

The lack of walls on campus made it clear that all types of people are free to roam around as they please. And I loved this idea that my campus is available to everyone who wants to be part of this community. It reflects the spirit of many of the people around me that everyone has a right to any space and country — that no one should be illegal anywhere.

But as the semester continued, I noticed that even though the campus doesn’t have any walls, people’s minds are filled with barriers.

Groups of people with different identities are deeply divided on this campus. White Americans are bitter towards immigrants. People of color are resentful toward white people. Science majors have disdain for students in the humanities. And meat eaters hate vegans.

It seems like almost every identity comes with a bitter opposition to some other identity. If I think of myself as a Democrat, I automatically hate Republicans.

Our identities are built up as walls to separate us from “the others.” And this hatred has been kindled by current political discourse.

A few days ago, Berkeley College Republicans put up a red, white and blue stand in Sproul Plaza with a sign that read “Build the Wall.” While I want to be supportive of free speech on campus and have open discourse on different political viewpoints, this sign was triggering for me and my friends— it made us feel like these Americans hate and reject Mexican immigrants. On top of that, it proves the extent to which American society desires to be separated from “the others” — so much so that the government is now building actual walls.

Despite the heightened political divide, divisions between countries and identities are nothing new. As an international student who was just recently immersed in a diverse and divided campus, I’ve slowly learned to navigate through these distinctions.

Last semester, my international friends from Mexico were reluctant to integrate “Chicanos” into our friend group. It was then that I realized there is a division between Mexicans who were born and raised in Mexico and Mexican Americans who grew up in the United States.

And this semester, when I was dating a guy from El Salvador, I learned about a supposed historic bitterness between Salvadorans and Mexicans. He told me that most Mexicans he’s met are really arrogant — they think that all Latin American countries are just like Mexico. Even though we felt a connection in our Latinx culture and Spanish language, a history of division which I hadn’t even known about lingered in our discussions.

But between the mess of divided identities on this campus, I’ve also found some striking similarities between myself and people from countries in the opposite side of the world. While I was talking with a friend from Kuwait, we realized that our experiences and perspectives are oddly similar. We’re both frustrated that environmentalism isn’t appreciated in both our countries. We’re irritated by the rampant consumerism in both Monterrey and Kuwait.

Just this week, I was at an identity exploration workshop organized by my RA. At the workshop, I listened to a person from Kenya talk about her growing understanding of what it means to be Black in the United States versus what it means in her home country. Even though her experience is different from mine, I felt a strong connection to her perspective, because I too have learned a lot about what it means to be Mexican or a “minority” in the United States — we were united by our experiences in a divisive country.

In my first year at UC Berkeley, I’ve experienced how open communication can connect me to many different kinds of people and eliminate the perceived divisions between us. I’ve learned not to let these perceived divisions alienate and separate us — we can be united in our differences. I am Mexican, but I can value aspects of American culture over those of Mexico, and vice versa. I am vegan, but I wish to foster dialogue between different lifestyles.

Our identities should not come with walls, but with welcoming extensions. We need to be willing to integrate, listen to and respect those identities we have been told we should be opposed to.

This campus is an open space where all types of identities come together. Despite this, many people on this campus have a competitive and divisive attitude. If we wish to have a successfully diverse community and a holistic sense of kinship, we need to first stop attacking each other’s identities.

Let’s reflect the spirit of our open campus. Let’s break down the walls we have built around us.

Alejandra Márquez writes the Wednesday blog on her experience as an international student. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ale_marquez20.