by Sara A. Ramirez
It’s been over a decade since I left my childhood home in Dallas, Texas, to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame. And it has almost been a decade since I graduated from there. Although I was the first in my family to leave home for college, I was certainly not the first out of that group to leave a place I understood as “home.” I am the daughter and granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. My people are migratory people. We have been moving for centuries, and I’ve learned to appreciate my nomadic status as part of my life path.
One of the Chicanas whose writings have helped me understand “home” differently is Gloria Anzaldúa, who professes, “[I]n leaving home I did not lose touch with my origins because lo mexicano is in my system. I am turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back.” I haven’t lived in Dallas since I was 18, but “home” has been with me when I lived in other places like South Bend, Indiana; Oakland, California; San Antonio, Texas; and even London, England.
Since I left, I’ve met lots of Latinas—who like me—have chosen to attend college a long ways from home. I’ve consulted with one of them, Sonia I. Valencia, to offer you some dichos. Sonia is originally from Orange, California, and has also relocated to three cities away from home to pursue her bachelor’s, master’s, and now doctoral degrees. I hope the following tips help you on your journey as you leave one of the first places you’ve called “home” and come to know the home you carry on your back.
“La/El que nace para maceta del corredor no sale.”
This dicho encourages you to break out of the maceta (the plant pot). Like a healthy plant, you are bound to blossom. Imagine your consciousness to be like roots that—as you experience and learn more—grow longer and deeper into the pot in which you’ve grown comfortable. You will likely get the feeling that the pot isn’t for you anymore. Allow your roots, your leaves, your flowers to keep growing beyond the pot, off the porch, past the sidewalk, and as far as you can go.
This growth may happen in lots of different ways. For instance, many of us who are the first in our families to go to university believe we should pursue majors that will make our families happy, so that one day they can proudly tell la comadre that you’re a doctora, an abogada, or an ingeniera. But just as you made the decision to leave the place you call home, you will recognize the importance of continuing to pave and follow your own path. Anzaldúa writes, “I had to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me.” Let yourself fall in love with subjects outside of what is considered traditional. Take a Women’s Studies class or an Ethnic Studies class when you get the chance. When you’re at the campus bookstore, check out what other professors are having their students read. If the books seem interesting, get the book and/or jot down the name of the class and/or professor. Google their faculty profile, and try to take a class with them in the future.
Remember, you won’t know what’s “out there” or “in here” (*points to heart*) until you venture off the path you think you’re supposed to follow.
“No hay mal por que bien no venga.”
But while you’re out there reaching far beyond your comfy plant pot, you will stumble and sometimes fall. Although you may proceed with caution, some things will not go as you planned. This dicho is for those times. Loosely translated, it means, “No bad will come without good.” I have heard this dicho not only from my parents but also from my beloved Chicana mentors, and I live by it.
When something goes wrong, try to remember that there is a silver lining to every cloud. There will likely be times when you will remember the dicho above and then ask, “What good could possibly come of this?” When that question comes up, consider any lessons you may have learned or how this “bad” incident will direct you to a different path that could possibly be good. When I was a senior at Notre Dame, I applied to various doctoral programs in English and two M.A. programs in English I was accepted only to the Master’s programs, one of which was at Notre Dame and the other was in San Antonio. Going to San Antonio was the best thing that could have ever happened to me; this is where I met three Chican@ mentors, who helped me come to consciousness as a Chicana feminist. It was they who encouraged me to pursue Chican@ Studies or Women’s Studies for my doctorate. With their guidance, I was accepted to five of the eight doctoral programs I applied to the second time around. Of course, I cried when I didn’t get into the other programs, but I had to remind myself, “No hay mal por que bien no venga.” When one door shuts, another one opens, and here I am.
“La sangre te hace pariente, pero la lealtad entre amig@s te hace familia.”
To help you see the “bien” in the dicho above, you’ll need social support. For many, family is important, but don’t believe that that’s all you have. There are people outside of your family who can and will care about you as much as (and sometimes more than) those with whom you grew up. As this dicho indicates, “blood” makes you relatives, but loyalty between friends makes you family.
Learn “to make familia from scratch” even when your relatives are close. This means forming bonds with the people who are around you at school. Get to know the student organizations on campus. Type in “student organizations” (sometimes called “Student Activities” or “Student Life”) into your school’s homepage search bar to learn about what’s out there. Pay attention to flyers put up on student bulletin boards to find out when their meetings are, and attend! If you don’t see an organization that reflects your interests, ask one of the staff at the Student Activities office how to create your own.
Creating community is essential to not only your college experience but also your life experience. A lot of times we’re told to seek out people who are unlike us so that we can learn from them and they can learn from us, and that’s important. It’s equally significant, however, to seek out people who will understand you (e.g., your humor) and share your interests (e.g., your love for cumbia, your disdain for homophobia and sexism). You’ll need a support system during rough times, which might happen when you miss your loved ones or when you get your first C.
Special thanks to Luz Ponce de Chihuahua, México, who directed me to these dichos.
Sara A. Ramírez is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also part of the Third Woman Press Collective and an adjunct instructor in Women’s Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.