As I sat under the baking sun, I felt the need to apologize to myself for not calling it how I saw it. I knew when I first stepped on campus that it was the beginning of a very deep hurting.
Four years later, I was sitting in a sea of soon-to-be college graduates and honorary alumni, and all I could think was “I hope my mom isn’t mad that I’m not wearing the heels she bought me.” It was funny to me because I didn't wear the heels she bought me for my quinceñera. She thought it was funny, too.
After a few hours, I finally stood up and prepared to walk the stage. I remember wishing my therapist, advisor, dean and Latinx art professor were waiting for me on the stage to shake my hand. As I touched hands with unrecognizable faces, I held my breath until it was my turn to face the crowd. I thought of the flowers on my head, and the regalia I put over my gown that morning. My dad was filled with excitement as he helped arrange the cords on my shoulders. It was then, on the stage, that I remembered why I needed to smile that morning.
College was, “My name is. I am a first-gen, low-income, queer Latinx womxn,” and everything that followed was not as important. It never was, but it felt good to me. It felt good to hear myself in front of a group of people who never had to be me, but they could kind of, sort of, see where I was coming from.
There were pieces of me at every event I put together. There are altars I pray to that help cleanse the spaces that still hear me crying in the middle of the day. Maybe later in life, I'll be able to visit those places, and maybe it won't hurt as much.
Here, in my new home, things are on my terms. Here, I am not choosing between making money to survive or taking advantage of the resources promoted to me. Here, I don’t have to peel myself from stale bed sheets in a room so painfully white. I get to build my own space and have it reflect everything I want it to. In college, I had to reflect my first-gen, low-income Latinx identities. Why else would I be there?
College was working long days and still being poor. Graduating was hanging onto the barrio love because they actually clapped as I walked across the stage in all my flowery magic. And as I walked those steps, my family saw that I could breathe again.
Seeing the end of my undergraduate life was salvaging what was left. It was feeding the rest of me back to life. Here, I am healing. Here, I am heartbroken and learning how to continue loving. Here, I am me on my terms.
No degree attached.