The April showers, strong smell of flowers waiting to be pollinated and excited faces of high school seniors scouring our campus took me back to my decision day. April is derived from the Latin word “aperit” which means “to open.”
It is the month of opportunities, when flowers and plants bloom, when hibernating animals come out into the open. I believed my journey to college started when I graduated from high school, but really it began long ago.
My hometown of Salinas was the city of opportunity for agriculture and prisons. The high schools conditioned me and my fellow classmates to be either farmworkers or prisoners, because the city depended on the commodified bodies of farmworkers and incarcerated people.
The teachers, who were predominantly Anglo, had the power to prepare us mentally and materialistically for universities but did not engage with Chicanx students like me. I say this because I was pushed to graduate high school, and that’s it. I had classes where the material was difficult and the teachers would get frustrated and move on. One teacher even stated that if I couldn’t understand simple math, then I wouldn’t be able to work a minimum wage cashier job.
To succeed in high school, I had to fight for myself.
Only those were seen as “smart” from the very beginning had the chance to go to college. In my public school, not everyone was offered the opportunity to go to a four-year university. The high school had ingrained in me that if I did make it out, I was lucky — not hardworking or intelligent— just lucky. I knew that each opening was an option to leave this ideology. And as a student of color, it was stressed to me that it was not a decision I could make lightly.
April was the month my doors appeared. All month, I couldn’t help but stress about which one I would open. As the blooming flowers continued to grow, so did my nervousness for my future. When I opened the email from UC Berkeley admissions, all I saw was “CONGRATULATIONS” before I started screaming in excitement.
My acceptance letter from UC Berkeley was a resistance to this system that desired my body and not my brain. It was a resistance to the system that had taught me accomplishment was not an option for a Chicana like me.
I was a small flower ready to be transferred from the pot to the Berkeley soil. As I researched UC Berkeley, programs like EOP, Summer Bridge, Basic Needs Assistance and the Career Center all caught my attention. These programs seemed like the water I needed to grow. I knew being a Chicana from a small agricultural city that I wouldn’t immediately fit in at UC Berkeley, but I thought I had assistance. I didn’t know what I needed from UC Berkeley, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted to grow with my peers, not against them. I wanted to succeed with them while simultaneously coming into my own identity.
Berkeley was not all sunshine, but I guess I needed rain to grow as well. Like most colleges and universities, UC Berkeley has a small population of students of color. Latinx people are the largest ethnic group in California. Only 10.8 percent of students at UC Berkeley are Chicanx. In 2016, there were more white students enrolled than Chicanx, Black and other Latinx students combined.
I did not feel that my community and I were fully represented. These statistics only reinforced more of what I was feeling. I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t belong and wondered if UC Berkeley only admitted me to fill a diversity quota. Individual spaces or student of color groups were not enough representation. Most of the programs that initially caught my eye were helpful, but there was no space for students of color to connect and grow together.
In this ongoing struggle of representation, it is not just in my fellow classmates or professors but academic material as well. Each year I have difficulty selecting my classes for my English major because the classes are predominantly Anglo-based. I live in a country that prides itself as a melting pot, however the novels I learn about do not reflect my reality and the reality of half of the Chicanx people in the United States. I want academic material that shows the reality of Chicanx people and other students of color because our reality matters. It’s a reality of struggle and a reality of perseverance.
Throughout the three years I have attended UC Berkeley, this feeling of isolation has continued. I’ve felt like I needed to compete with other students and felt like I was on my own. I didn’t see a garden of diverse flowers — I saw mostly the same plants in the same pots everywhere I went. I am still seeking a university that creates communities, not individuals. I still struggle everyday with my individuality, but it is my community that has kept me rooted. I have learned that UC Berkeley is a tough garden and it’s amazing to have people to tackle it with.
Seeking help or working together does not make me any less successful than my peers. I am graduating for myself, for other Chicanx students, for other students of color, for womxn. Every spring when the high schoolers come to visit, I remember I am a flower seeking my next garden.
Marissa Trujillo is a junior studying English at UC Berkeley.