The heat in that classroom in Sever was unbearable. Everyone was pulling off their layers, stripping down to their t-shirts to find some relief. It didn’t help that the room was completely full, many of us sitting mere inches apart. There weren’t enough desks in this Latin American Studies class. People had to grab chairs from empty classrooms next door, squeezing them in wherever they could find space. The situation was stuffy, cramped, but at least it meant people cared about being there.
A guest lecturer was explaining the role of bilingual Latinos in the United States, giving meaning to Spanglish outside of a mediocre 2004 comedy. I was finally learning about myself—about the duality I’ve lived for my entire life—in a validating, academic setting. Later that night, as I trudged through dense sociology readings, I stumbled across an explanation of how poor immigrants "create rotating credit associations to generate resource pools available to the group.” I highlighted it, realizing the excerpt was central to my existence. It took an academic text, read exactly 2,995 miles from home, for me to understand why my mom always reminded my dad to drop off the payment for “el cuchubal” every month. It took being at Harvard, a place that is so often difficult to call home, for me to understand the things that have made me who I am.
I’m thankful. I’m thankful for the opportunities that this institution has granted me, but that does not mean I cannot be critical of where it fails. Harvard has failed Latino populations for decades now, and it continues to fail us. It has taken rejection, mobilization, dejection, and the exhausting work of my brothers and sisters before me to get us to this point. I will be pursuing a secondary field in Latino Studies, an opportunity afforded to me by the nameless brown faces I’ll never know.
And even with that, I’m pursuing a course of study that was only created as a subset of the Ethnicity, Migration, Rights secondary field. What our community needs is an entire Latino Studies department, one that will only thrive with the diversification of Harvard’s faculty and staff. Current professors of color are overworked, thrown into numerous diversity committees, and simply cannot serve the large numbers of students seeking mentors who will invest in them.
The calls for a Latino Studies department and diversification are not matters of self-aggrandizement, but rather the solution to this systemic problem of underrepresentation. For Latino students, who often live the duality of being low-income, the first-generation of their family to attend college, or both, there are often no figures in their personal lives to lead them in pursuing jobs in academia or administration at higher education institutions. Where am I supposed to turn to fix these issues if the game is rigged to keep my melanin out? If Harvard is serious about diversifying the people who work here, as they often allege, they’ll start acting now.
Our friends in Palo Alto seem to have this figured out, so the best university in the world better solve its problem soon. Because that’s what it boils down to: a deep problem. I see it when my.harvard.edu reveals that only one non-tutorial Latin American Studies class is being offered this semester. None were offered in the fall. I see it when the demographics of the University faculty and staff are so deeply buried online that finding it took a face-to-face meeting with the president of the University and an e-mail from her Chief of Staff.
Expanding the Latino Studies curriculum is crucial, not only for Latino students to learn about themselves, but for all Harvard students to be equipped to function in an ever-changing American landscape. These are the students who will go on to be our educators, policy makers, and politicians. Not teaching them about the world they are entering would be a disservice and will lead to a misguided, or even dangerous, future.
We’re here to learn. It’s the place every family dreams of sending their child because it has, for nearly 400 years, been the leading force in education. Harvard can’t afford to fall behind now, and we won’t let it. We’ll keep writing, speaking, and shouting, in English, Spanish, or the Spanglish we know too well, until we’re heard. I’ll be using my voice until the day I can call my mom on the phone and say, “Sí Mamí, las cosas están difíciles, but they’re changing. Finalmente, things are changing.”
Ruben E. Reyes Jr. '19, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Canaday Hall.