​When Dreams Aren’t Enough

“A smart gabacho lawyer took the land away mamá hadn’t paid taxes”—Gloria Anzaldúa, “The Homeland, Aztlán”

Borderlands/La Frontera

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.

R: Is it surprising that a brown boy—the child of immigrants, the first in his family to go to college—wouldn’t be able to imagine himself in the careers most Harvard students assume are just the next step in their lives? I was never told a professional career was mine for the taking, and even though thousands of mediocre white men apply to doctoral programs every year, I’ll still hesitate when I end up applying. My hesitation is not just a side effect of self-doubt, but rather a reflection of the fact that professional careers are still suffocatingly white. In 2013, only two percent of full-time university faculty were Latino and two percent were Latina. Five percent of medical school graduates in 2015 and only four percent of lawyers in 2010 were Latinx. The professional world reeks of whiteness, and navigating it with my brown skin will feel like scraping against thorns in a rosebush.

Z: I have the dream, but am at a loss as to how to achieve it. No matter how many admissions panels I go to, I can’t help but think of the stories of private LSAT tutors, the coaches who can get you into whichever school you’d like to attend if you give them enough money. I think of how I’ll be diminished to my grade point average and my test scores, and how unlikely it’ll be that those numbers will tell the story of how hard my transition was to Harvard. I wonder if in those lines of my transcript they’ll be able to see the pain I felt when I lost my family home during freshman year or how every break only brought more stress from home that didn’t end when I got back to campus.

R: When I enter the professional world, brandishing my oh-so-fancy Harvard degree for access, I’ll be aware of how where I come from strays from the norm. I may be able to connect with my co-workers if they went to Ivy League institutions, but unless they’ve also felt the weight of being brown at institutions that favor whiteness, that connection can only run so deep. When they’ll talk about following in the footsteps of their parents—or maybe rejecting them by pursuing politics instead of medicine—I’ll smile and nod. I’ll put on the same face I put on now when people ask where my parents went to school or where I dream of working, as if everyone’s vision is tinted with the same entitled glare as theirs.

Z: It doesn’t matter that I spend most days dreaming of how I can change the world one court case at a time, to protect those from my community who have wrongfully been stripped of their rights time and time again. In the end, it still won’t be enough, because I can’t erase the past, can’t suddenly be born into a family where money isn’t an issue. The boxes I checked on my application for Harvard—first-gen, low-income, Latina, the daughter of a single mother—weren’t just identities I pimped out to get here. They are facets of my identity I wear everyday I walk these halls. They travel with me into every classroom, manifest themselves in every exam that I take, and when it comes time for me to apply to law school, to navigate blindly through spaces no one in my family ever has, they will come along with me there too, packaged into the suitcase of disenfranchisement that I embody.

R+Z: When students like us step through Johnston Gate, they’ll bring with them dreams, but tied closely to those dreams are real insecurities that must be addressed. It isn’t enough to have a speckling of resources here and there. It isn’t enough for there to be only one fellowship, with a limited number of recipients, for students of color who want to pursue academia. It isn’t enough for there to be admissions trips to visit Harvard Law School when in the end we, students born of disenfranchised backgrounds, don’t have sufficient resources to place us on equal footing with our more privileged peers.

As an institution that places so much weight on where we will be post-graduation, and the ways we will choose, as alumni, to shape the world, Harvard is committing a disservice by ignoring the reality that not all students feel entitled to make the jump into a world of suits, high heels, social capital, and class. Although it may take more to prepare us than it takes to prepare our more privileged classmates, giving us admission into this environment that worships the professional world requires that the institution support us in our attempts to become working professionals. Our classmates take what they view as theirs, and about it’s time we ask for our share.

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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