Belen Zayas: Honors With Honor

"...But one day the smog lifted

The City and the Country smiled at each other

And so did we

The Mariachi met the Mambo

And so did we


And like the frozen snow in spring

We melted

And like the warm winds of summer

We were gentle And no matter how the rain falls

And if time stops dead in its tracks tomorrow

I will praise the gods for your existence

I will dance to your rhythms

Even as the sun grows cold

And I am not lonely anymore." --AVOTCJA

In September 1971, I watched a documentary, "Salt of the Earth," about a successful mine workers strike in New Mexico led by the miner's Chicana wives. Being Chicano myself and knowing the film is banned in my home state, New Mexico, I was profoundly affected. The impact of observing those women overcome their exploitative circumstances was enhanced by meeting, that same night, a woman possessing the same strengths and experiences of poor Chicanas in the Southwest. The only difference was that she was Puerto Rican and from New York City.

The woman I met that night is Belen Zayas, a "Newyorrican" from the South Bronx, whose mother had suffered the ultimate in women's exploitation; and whose father had been imprisoned for years. Zayas, who at 14 mothered a son, is a high school dropout who scored below the national average on her Scholastic Aptitude Tests. Thus, some would readily say that Zayas had the perfect criterion--economically, socially and academically--to ensure her rejection from Harvard University didate in the Radcliffe class of 1974.

Because of Zayas, my past three years at Radcliffe will always be treasured; not for our discovery that much of what was taught as "VERITAS" was revealed to be "mientiritas" (Chicano word: "lies"); nor for our feelings of existential isolation in the midst of thousands of brilliant minds. They will not be endeared for anger experienced while listening to wealthy students with patches on their jeans complaining about the variety of cafeteria food--as I envisioned my tired parents eating frijoles, chile, y tortillas as usual.

The treasure will be recollection of Belen in class, boldly contesting ideas about behavior and intelligence which so many have swallowed "summa cum laude"--because they have never seen; because they have never been "the studied." Radcliffe years will be remembered for knowledge we shared about fascinating linguistical and cultural similarities and differences about extended Spanish-speaking families on the east and west coasts.

But more significantly, Cambridge years will be valued: for our laughter as we learned to do our people's dances; for what Belen taught me about