The Forgotten Ones

“The only ‘legitimate’ inhabitants are those in power, the whites and those who align themselves with whites”—Gloria Anzaldúa, “The Homeland, Aztlán”

Borderlands/La Frontera

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.

R: But the forgotten ones are everywhere. If you are Latinx in this country, the numbers are not stacked in your favor. Latinx Americans have the highest high school dropout rates of any ethnic group. In 2014, only 15 percent of Latinx people aged 25 to 29 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, lagging behind every other ethnic group in this category as well. When asked why they entered the workforce or enrolled in the military instead of going to college, 66 percent of people cited their need to support their family. The pressure to provide, a bittersweet mix of machismo and racial expectation, keeps too many Latino men out of the classroom. That’s how they become the Forgotten Ones.

Z: I often wonder how different my life would have been if I hadn’t been in classrooms with peers who competed in international chess competitions, used big words regularly, and talked about college like it was a guaranteed destination. I learned how to speak like a “white girl”—a synonym often used to imply someone who speaks properly—because my mom knew the only way I would find an environment that cultivated and pushed my success was to leave my community’s schools. But that can’t be the answer, we shouldn’t have to leave our communities behind to guarantee a good education and a successful future. Other Latinx students shouldn’t be doomed to remain in classrooms that are falling apart, with teachers who are underpaid, where the students destined for a better place, the ones destined to get out, to go to college, to have the chance to see the world outside of where they grew up, are too few and far between. Maybe it's because the majority of school funding comes from property taxes and 30 percent of the low-income families in the United States are Latino. It makes me wonder how will my community succeed in a country that doesn’t believe they truly are the future.

R: So, we write a column. Although they may be hard to find, we take classes on Latinidad and pontificate about what we learn. We quote Anzaldúa, spit social theory, and chew on the wordy texts of academics. We come up with answers for the problems we’ve diagnosed in the Latinx community. In our heads, we’re doing God’s work but, suddenly, the realization that we are the select few—the glowing brown chosen ones—comes crashing down on us. There’s no purpose in learning or scheming or brainstorming the best ways to help your community if you run so far away from them in order to do so.

Z: To make it, I had to break from the community that shaped me, learn to speak a different way, quote Nietzsche, and have history lessons about phenomena that resulted in our oppression. I’m constantly asked if I’ll go back, asked if I’ll fulfill my responsibility to better my community after I get my degree. Yet, I can’t help but feel that this problem is bigger than just me. It is imperative to have successful people of color in the world, who can be role models for others, but it is also important to understand that many of these successful individuals have been afforded privileges that should be universal guarantees to all students of color. I got to Harvard not just because I was lucky, not just because I worked hard, but because I had certain privileges that allowed me to reach for the high places this university represents. I had a mom who spoke English and understood the inequality of education in Houston, which is something that not all Latinx students can say. The Forgotten Ones, the majority of Latinos who did not make it here or to a college degree, were created by a society that continues to ignore the unique needs of disenfranchised students. These needs must be addressed through concrete policy and they need to be remembered by more than just the lucky ones.

R: By coming to Harvard, we inherently become detached from the communities that propelled us here. We lose a sense of ourselves in our attempts to navigate an institution based in whiteness. It’s the price we pay, one much larger than any tuition sticker price, when we accept our admission. When we’re forced to detach in order to survive, we ourselves begin to forget the forgotten ones. We will graduate with Harvard degrees, two shining examples of what Latinx success can look like, but that should not exempt us from helping the Latinx communities all over this country—the ones that are not writing this column, the ones whose backs break under systemic oppression, and the ones who may be so tempting to forget but don’t deserve to be forgotten.

Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator living in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a Crimson Editorial executive, is a Social Studies concentrator living in Mather House. Their column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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