Borderlands/La Frontera

​Living in a Machista World

Zoe: The lessons began before I even hit puberty. They came in the form of comments to cover up a body that was quickly transforming into something that could attract unwanted male attention. Attention, I was taught, wouldn’t come if I acted like a proper lady. I was warned to expect eyes on my body, crawling like bugs up and down my limbs, taking without permission. No amount of clothing layered on top of skin seemed to be enough to prevent the violation I would feel. Violation that would keep my heartbeat racing, my steps moving a little bit quicker, my eyes shifting to the ground, and sending prayers that somehow I would become invisible. I learned through firsthand experience that it didn’t take much for a gaze to become hands touching without consent. It was the first time I realized part of my being a woman meant always anticipating what a man around me might do next, it meant living, without choice, in a machista world.

Ruben: I was thirteen years old and my body was changing. I had to start wearing deodorant and was convinced that my brain was broken because I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl in my class. The awkward videos about how puberty worked started to make sense. I’d barely left childhood—although most men act like children until at least their early 30s—but I was suddenly bombarded with questions about my sex life. Sometimes they came from sweaty, brown-skinned teammates whose grossly explicit fantasies about smashing girls hinted at an upcoming lifetime of violent masculinity. But, much more often, the questions were implicit and from family members. They’d ask if I had a girlfriend, make suggestive comments when I said I didn’t, and treat me like I was a full-fledged, girl-crazy, conquest-prone, machista adult before I even knew what a blowjob was. Machismo was thrust upon me like an old coat, one that I wore because it was bequeathed even though it fit uncomfortably.

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​English Only, Please

April 12, 2017

Ruben: Porque esta phrase está escrita en Español, la mayoría de nuestros compañeros tendrán dificultades entendiendo. Pero, that’s the belleza of it. Growing up in a household where my mother spoke mostly Spanish and my father spoke both Spanish and English, I learned the beautiful duality of Spanglish. It was an entirely new language, one born in the borderlands, one birthed of American military involvement in El Salvador, and one that is sweeter than any other language I’ve tried to learn. But, aunque ahora no me sorprende, I’ve learned that it makes people uncomfortable at Harvard.

Zoe: We were in a place shrouded in shadows, the lights were dimmed—it was almost time. Happiness. I can only remember un sentimiento completo de felicidad. We were in a room mixed con gente de culturas diferentes, but dominated by the majority—white space, white place—como un mar de gringos con specks de color. I started with a story in the language que quería hablar, el idioma de mi cultura, de chisme. “No puedo creer que eso ocurrió...” I told Ruben with a smile, as our event hadn’t started just yet. “Hey!” I turned to look at this girl, my friend, una sonrisa lista, about to ask her what was up. “English only, please,” she said authoritatively, aggressively. My face fell, my heart racing. Silencio. No pude responder.

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The Forgotten Ones

March 29, 2017

Ruben: I have 39 cousins—my sisters and I counted when I was home last winter break. We got through the cousins living in the United States pretty easily. They were counted on the hands my youngest sister held up. Ten slender, brown fingers. The rest of our cousins live in El Salvador, and most of their educational goals fall by the wayside when there’s livestock to be fed and farms to be tended to. To them, Harvard is nothing but a hollow, insignificant name of some university in the United States.

Zoe: When I was in the third grade, I’d catch the school bus down the street at 5:45 a.m. when the sky wasn’t even thinking of brightening to welcome a new day. I’d travel for an hour and a half with the sun rising behind us as we ate up miles upon miles of black asphalt on freeways that, like the yellow brick road, would end in a completely different place from anything I had ever known. My own Oz was a school for gifted and talented students, dominated by white and Asian upper-middle-class residents on the west side of town. To say it was different from the predominantly Latino and low-income elementary school I was zoned to on the east side is an understatement. Despite the fact that Houston had a sizable Latino population at the time, I was the only Latina in my entire grade for three years before I got to middle school.

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​When Dreams Aren’t Enough

March 08, 2017

Ruben: During recruiting season, it seems like everyone at this college wants to work for Goldman Sachs. You’ll see people who study economics, history and literature, or government, dressed in business formal wearing the name tag from their recruiting event like a badge. And, if you look hard enough, you might find those who don’t want to go into finance or consulting, so maybe they’ll shun Goldman Sachs in favor of a humble career in medicine, law, academia, or journalism. But I feel so detached from even those people because they feel entitled to a professional career in a way that I frankly just don’t.

Zoe: When I was in middle school, my mom told me I should be a lawyer, because I was so great at arguing with her. I didn’t think much of it; lawyers were the sort of people that showed up on my TV when I was flipping through the channels. They were the actors on Law & Order, the people who never looked like me: typically male, sometimes of color, but never Latina. College was the first time I ever walked on a law school’s campus, the first time I met real-life law school students. Nevertheless, the beautiful rooms of the Law School Library only brought newfound anxiety as I realized I had no clue how to get there, how to eventually make it to a courtroom, defending people who deserve to have their rights protected.

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El Pueblo Unido

February 13, 2017

{image id=1320469 size=medium align=right caption=true byline=true}Ruben: I do my own laundry. It’s tempting to pay HSA to do it for me, but it’s an expense I can’t justify to myself. In one of my first weeks in Leverett, as I was bringing two weeks’ worth of dirty clothes to the laundry room, I heard a surprisingly familiar Spanish drawl. It carried the way my abuelita’s words carried through her adobe house in rural El Salvador. It sounded like my tios and tias gossiping around a table at one of countless family cookouts, their words finding a rhythm with the sizzling of pupusas cooking in the background. In my dorm that day, thousands of miles from home and even further from El Salvador, the words came from a conversation between a cleaning lady and a maintenance man. Their Spanish was distinctly Salvadoran.

Zoe: Sometimes, I feel lost. It’s as though I’m on this impossible quest attempting to find something that reminds me of home. I’m constantly seeking out the hints of color in the otherwise blinding sea of white, because when the cold sets in and I’m reminded of how far away I am from home, I just want the comfort that comes from those moments of familiarity. I was walking out of a section for my Social Studies class when beautiful, lilting Spanish words immediately transported me to images of the paleta man coming down the street, hardworking brown bodies, and food so spicy that water can never be very far away. I turned the corner and found the source in two of Mather’s Latinx custodial workers joking and laughing with each other. The familiar sounds of rolled r’s and rapid-fire words fell from their lips, providing me with a warmth I fail to find in predominantly white syllabi and classrooms where the moments I find a face that looks like my own are few and far between.

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