College is a time when students can explore diverse areas in order to find their true identity. Some people enter college with the mentality that their identity is set and their morals and values are firm. Others, on the other hand, visualize college as a symbol of freedom and adulthood to express and discover their true selves. Regardless of what mentality one has when entering college, the reality is, one is bound to change. Change is inevitable, especially during college because of the exposure to different cultures and values. However, this change can be good as it helps us grow and understand what it is that speaks to us.
Senior year in high school is hectic and sometimes overwhelming. By senior year most of us have felt or feel like we know who we are. This is because the idea of starting a new chapter in your life, fools you into thinking you must feel confident and able to know yourself. Although clubs, sports and other organizations you are involved with in high school do speak for you (some of mine are shown below), they do not fully represent your identity because high schools and parents havelimitations. For example, in public high schools students can encounter difficulty starting a club, if the clubs are affiliated with religion or politics. Also, parents hold the most influence upon us, since we learned from them first. Nevertheless, the freedom college offers helps us define what we truly want to advocate for.
These are some pictures I was able to obtain of clubs in my high school.
Top left: Cheerleading
Top right: Drama Club
Bottom left: Safe School Ambassador
Throughout my high school years, I was involved with numerous activities that were and continue to be important to me. I wanted to impress my parents and have a 'perfect' college resumé (as shown below) to stand out from the massive pool of applicants. I truly believed that my identity was well represented by all of the clubs I was part of. However, I had sculpted a persona who was well rounded and pro equality, but was not fully engaged. And it worked. The problem was that I did not know who I truly was and what I advocated for, because of wide range of activities I participated in. My identity was obscure, even to me.
My College Experience
Upon my arrival at the UC Berkeley campus, I immediately scouted for any and all clubs that resembled those of high school. For example, M.E.Ch.X.A., Safe School Ambassadors, Health Academy, Leadership and cheerleading. My search led me to finding similar clubs that specifically catered to Latino students. It was perfect. I was ecstatic to find activities that were of interest to me. However, when classes began I realized I could not be involved with that many clubs. I had to prioritize my interests based on my identity in Berkeley. My identity now was a Chicana in the STEM field, a more accurate image of myself. I then, knew I had to comprehend what that signified. This picture sums it up nicely!
To further my understanding of being a Chicana, I joined Casa Magdalena Mora and M.E.Ch.X.A. Although both of these are spaces are for Latino students, they serve different purposes. Casa Mora is a themed housing program created to provide a community for Latino students in an unfamiliar environment. Casa Mora is a closed knit community that organizes events for important dates/ holidays in the Mexican/ Latin American culture. On the other hand, M.E.Ch.X.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Azlan) is a club that promotes the equal rights for latino students. M.E.Ch.X.A.'s rallies and events are known for being radical, but empowering. The events go to such extent in order to get the messages across and voice the opinion of the students. The M.E.Ch.X.A. symbol, an eagle holding a firework, is well-known, as it is a nationwide movement.
With just M.E.Ch.X.A. and Casa Mora and the people I have met along the way, I have acquired a more deeper and well rounded understanding of what it means to be a Chicana at UC Berkeley. I already understood what it meant to be a Mexican pursuing a secondary education because I was in M.E.Ch.X.A. in high school, but being at Cal that changed, it became more profound. Getting accepted into Cal was already an impressive milestone for me. Attending college is not very common in the Mexican culture, specially if you are a female. Even at this point, I still have to overcome more obstacles because people continue to expect me to fail in the STEM field. But that of course has not held me back. In fact it continues to encourage me to continue pursuing my aspirations.
I know, right now you might be saying:
Or asking yourself, how the hell did she change, then?
To me that answer is clear. The knowledge I have gained represents my growth thus far. I have learned, understood and internalized what my position in this world is. Before I was naive. I wanted to do everything to impress everyone but myself. I am not saying that the clubs I joined did not interest me, because they did; but I am saying that I no longer had to do it for someone else. I still seek those clubs, and if I have time I commit to participate in their events. Through these small spaces I participate in, I have learned more. I learned about the struggles other people undergo. I learned about the effects that police brutality casts upon African Americans and the abuse the LGBTQ community faces. This means.....
My change may not seem significant (even though it is), but keep in mind this is just my first semester at Cal as a freshman. I have yet to meet more people, experience more difficult obstacles and undergo more intense pressures. I will continue to change, as my understanding of the world and its problems broaden. As mentioned before, change cannot be stopped because you will continue to learn new and more complex ideas. The change is subtle in the short run, but soon you will look back and acknowledge the growth. And this growth is the most valuable reward you can earn because it was you who decided your journey.
Remember: Going through secondary education is not a matter of finding a new identity but instead a matter of obtaining knowledge to reinforce and/or adapt your values and beliefs.