May 6, 2022 | OPINION | By Javier Cantu
Colorado College is a weird place for Mexicans. We don’t fit into the culture. This is especially the case for those of us who come from the borderland region. We’re not outdoorsy, we don’t ski, and we don’t play stump.
Mexican Americans see and understand two sides of the spectrum, and never truly fit into either. The discomfort from trying to fit in a culture so alien to you is very real. It is a feeling and experience no American school, teacher, or parent will ever prepare you for. It is known as imposter syndrome: it’s when your mind plays tricks on you and makes you doubt whether you truly belong at a high-level, private institution.
It is also that thing that has made many Mexicans doubt whether they belong in the United States—many of them found that completely abandoning the Spanish language and Mexican Catholic cultural tradition was necessary if they were to survive in the American empire. The effects of this are extensive and diverse, and certainly merits psychological-linguistic-historical research.
I am by no means trying to totalize the experience of all first-generation Mexicans at CC or in higher-education institutions. Some matriculate into higher education easier than others. Some hold on to the language and culture more than others. It is truly a case-to-case basis, so everyone’s individual experience must be considered.
I learned English and Spanish simultaneously during my crucial developmental stages. From ages zero through four, the first language I heard was Spanish. After I entered Pre-K, I was placed in an ESL program where classes were bilingual up until the third grade. This certainly affected my speech and writing abilities (I find myself fumbling my words in both languages sometimes, and sometimes my speech isn’t as fluid as I want it to because I have a hard time finding the translation for a word I do not know in one language).
Most people tell me being bilingual is a blessing, but it is really a double-edged sword. Those people are usually my family, who were fed narratives that all Americans have equal and better opportunities when it comes to education and jobs (maybe when you only have Mexico as a reference point, this narrative becomes enticing).
My parents were part of this hopeful and unique Gen-X Mexican generation that at this point had been indoctrinated into the mindset that hard work will pave the way towards a life of wealth and success—a wealth and success that looks like middle-class American suburbia, sort of like what happened after World War II. I sometimes feel like I might as well be a baby-boomer. My family follows the typical patriarchal nuclear structure and achieved upwards social-economic mobility by buying their own home. In this way, I do not feel too disconnected from the broader experience at CC. After all, there are plenty of parallels between the experiences of Mexican and American working- and middle-class families.
What are your options as a first generation Mexican American from the border? For those of us who graduate from an American high school and decide to pursue higher-ed, here is the reality: you end up in a state or private university (and this means usually away from home, as that is where you’ll find better and more opportunities). If you come from a Texan public school like me, your odds of getting into a top state university such as University of Texas or Texas A&M are favorable if you are in the top 7-15% of your class (which is measured by your GPA).
If you are poor (your family makes below a certain income level) and identify as a Hispanic/Latino/Mexican American minority, and you performed well in school (your GPA, volunteer/extracurriculars and standardized test scores are stellar) your chances of getting a full-ride or a near-full ride into an Ivy League or one of the Quest Bridge partner schools are great. For those of us in the lower and middle classes that must take out loans because we do not attend a needs-blind school, we must plan out our futures around paying off those loans and accept the fact that to achieve upwards mobility in America, and win “the game,” you must indebt yourself even more.