A Latino Graduates College – The Pride Complex

“As he stood in front of many, his heart broke, for his past was at war with his future….”

I am a college graduate. I have done things I once believed impossible. I worked as hard as I could and gave it my all. I was defiant to the end. I should feel proud – but that feeling, for this, was strange. I had trouble feeling proud about my success, something I had struggled with all my life.

As I gave my commencement speech, shook hands and gave hugs, there was an ever looming fear I had. Pride, (too much of it) is arguably a bad thing, a vice to many. Even so, I grew up being taught that I should be proud of many things, among them my heritage, my culture, my language (spanish), my family name and history, and more. And yet, I was afraid of being proud that I had made it this far – that I had graduated college Summa Cum Laude, won a Marshall Scholarship, and been academically accomplished.

As a Latino growing up in the United States, I understood well enough what the white-patriarchal-elite expected of me. I was destined for one of two paths.  I would either become the “typical” Latino youth who worked a low wage job(s), had several kids at a young age, drank and did drugs, spoke broken english, and most likely was a high school drop out . Or, if by some miracle bestowed upon me by the Abarahmic-Christian God and hard (individual) work, I would graduate high school, followed by college, and assimilate. That was my destiny. It is clear that I have not fulfilled the prior, but neither have I fulfilled the latter.

I have not fully assimilated to the white patriarchal elite that is represented in the power structure in the United States. I speak, read, and write in Spanish. I did not choose to study anything in a “marketable” major – I stuck to the social sciences and the humanities. I am  driven by social justice and activism, and recognize things such as racism, patriarchy, classism, and so forth. I do not believe capitalism works, I am not driven by money or the American “dream”, I rock long hair and “unkept” beard, protest,  etc. I am defiant to assimilation.

However, there is still a feeling of loss in my progression through higher education. By doing “the right thing” I’ve become an exception to the rule (which is an entirely different issue) – I have made it out of the hood, beat the odds, I am “better” than my brothers and sisters. We are taught that our Latino-ness is a negative thing, and that as we progress in life, our goal is to distance ourselves from the place that birthed us.

So, how does all this play into the “pride complex”? I have a great love for my Latino identity and am proud of a collective that I can call my own. I am proud to be part of Argentina and El Salvador, and to identify with those who call themselves Latino in this country. Yet, I fear something – I fear that I will be become part of a machine of oppression which has victimized me, my family, my friends, and my community throughout my entire life. This is the crux of the complex, that by feeling pride, I am validating/legitimizing oppression, and thus becoming part of its perpetuation.

I shouldn’t feel this, no one should. A person who works hard for something should feel an immense pride in that work, no matter what it is. And still, the question of “why?” is relevant, because I feel a conflict in me, one that won’t go away.

While this is not the entire answer, I know that part of this complex involves not being able to reconcile the world I am entering – that of perceived success by the white patriarchal elite and the community that I grew up with that made me who I am. Now, new things are becoming part of my identity, and they are not reflective of my current identification. For me, this means that one day I am going to have to sacrifice part of my history, and that should not be the case.

I write this in order to highlight a struggle that many of my brothers and sisters face as we become “successful”. I am not afraid to feel proud because I do not think I deserve what I have earned, but rather, by feeling pride, I am also validating something that is not me, but something that was against me my entire life, and that is the embodiment of racism, patriarchy, classism,  neo-liberal capitalism and colonialism. By feeling pride, I am acknowledging that the intrinsic oppression that comes along with “doing a good job” in this country is ok – when it isn’t, not even close to ok, in fact, it is intrinsically wrong.

This is far more complicated issue, with this being a small part of the pride complex, and something I don’t completely understand, but this is an important question to ask and confront, especially among Latinos. To some, this existential crisis seems ridiculous, but to me, it is something I grapple with on a daily basis.

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