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Whose Harvard? Yours.

A letter to future Latinx students, from a couple of viejitos

By Zoe D. Ortiz and Ruben E. Reyes Jr., Crimson Opinion Writers
Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a former Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a former Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House. Their column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

Ruben: I remember my Harvard acceptance well. “It doesn’t matter if I get in or not,” I remember telling my cross country teammates as I opened the portal. The “Congratulations” shone back, they screamed out, and I had to sit down, overwhelmed, smiling non-stop.

I knew what the acceptance signified — success, socioeconomic mobility, prestige, and worth — but I felt unsure how I fit into it. Perhaps this is what you — Class of 2023 admittee — are feeling. You might be wondering what it means to have the Harvard name attached to yours.

Zoe: After I got accepted to Harvard, I had already decided I wasn’t committing. I thought Harvard was synonymous with condescension and snobbery. I expected to be looked down upon for growing up low-income, for being in the first-generation of my family to go to college, and for being a Latina. I was scared of what it would mean to live in a place with racial and socioeconomic demographics that were a far cry from the place where I grew up. I was scared of what Harvard could mean for me.
R: In just a few weeks, we’ll be preparing to welcome you all onto campus for Visitas. As two students involved in Latinx cultural groups, we try transforming Harvard’s campus that weekend so that it’ll resemble the home you’re familiar with, just a little bit more.

Z: Visitas changed everything for me. In those three days, my assumptions of bougieness and exclusivity were challenged. Harvard was not what I thought it would be; instead, I could even see myself calling it home. The person who changed that for me? A Harvard Latina in her junior year. She was the antithesis of every stereotype I’d held about Harvard. It was who she was that inspired me to see the person I could become. She taught me that Harvard could be my chance to help people and that it didn’t mean forgetting who I was and where I came from.

R: There’s a deep tension as we greet you with our smiles and willingness to answer your questions. We want you to love this place, to envision yourself here, to join us and help make this place better, more empathetic, more accommodating to Latinx individuals. There are resources, and we want to make sure you know you deserve to make use of them as much as anyone else. But we’ve also seen how this place strips us down. Microaggressions and classicism make it difficult to be Latinx here. We find ourselves, at times, feeling small and unimportant. So when I tell admitted students about my time at Harvard, I try telling them about both the incredible highs and gut-wrenching lows.

Z: Harvard is far from being perfect. There have been moments at this University that I have been made extremely aware of my class, ethnic background, and gender identity. Every day I carry each facet of my identity. I have cried from the alienation that I’ve felt and I’ve been lost in what it means to exist in spaces that were not created with me in mind. Yet, these experiences are not Harvard specific. I’m a low-income, first-gen Latina at a university that was once exclusively meant for rich and powerful white men. So, the difficulty in being Latinx on any predominantly white campus is not hard to imagine.

R: As admissions processes and affirmative action grip public attention, you may be questioning your acceptance and your place at Harvard. Were you a fluke? Do you belong at a place where you live in a dorm named after your classmates’ ancestors while your grandparents were farmers in El Salvador?

I want my answer to be a resounding “yes,” said loudly and without restraint. Yet though you deserve to be at Harvard as much as anyone else — especially because all the hard work you put into your academics and communities before being admitted — I’m still unsure whether this place deserves you.

Z: But, and I can’t stress this enough, Harvard can be your home. The person I am today, the experiences I carry with me, and my view of the world are all shaped by this University. It is Harvard's resources that have exposed me to more than I could have ever imagined, it is these classrooms that have challenged me to form strong opinions, and it is the Harvard name that has opened doors for me that have historically — and wrongfully — remained closed to our community. We have pushed for this community to be a familia and that is the beauty we hope you see when you come here. A beauty we hope you stay to fight for, preserve, and change.

R: Every year, I quietly mourn those who got away: brilliant, fascinating, thoughtful Latinx students I host as they visit Harvard, only to have them pick a different university. I’m always a little disappointed because I come to admire them as they visit. If they’d chosen Harvard, I like to think we would have been friends and collaborators. But I know that their choice was the right one, that the school they chose over Harvard will benefit from their talents.

No institution is a perfect, painless fit for Latinx students who are still underrepresented in higher education. For those of you who do end up choosing Harvard: Welcome home. We need you here, and we cannot wait to see what you’ll do to shape it.

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

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