Bruin 101: The Latinx Perspective, Part 1
(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations Editor)
In this episode of “Bruin 101,” a Daily Bruin podcast about life at UCLA, Podcasts contributor Kyla Ventura hosts Photo assistant editor Joseph Jimenez and PRIME contributor Carlos Ramirez to share their stories and advice about being Latinx students at UCLA.
Kyla Ventura: Hello and welcome to Bruin101, a Daily Bruin podcast that is made by Bruins for Bruins. In this series, we will help students and prospective students learn about and adapt to UCLA by providing insight into the school, sharing helpful tips and discussing concerns. This episode is the first part of a three-episode miniseries where I will be hosting two students as they share their experiences, perspectives and advice on being Latinx students at UCLA. I’m Kyla Ventura.
Joseph Jimenez: I’m Joseph Jimenez.
Carlos Ramirez: I’m Carlos Ramirez.
JJ: We’re Latinos.
CR: Exactly, exactly.
JJ: Where do we start?
CR: Where do we start? A lot to talk about.
JJ: Too many things to talk about.
CR: Too many things.
KV: Are you guys involved in any organizations?
JJ: So I’m involved with the Daily Bruin and I’m also part of the Academic Advancement Program. They are a program that provides resources for students with multiethnic, low-income, first-generation and multiracial backgrounds, according to the website, and at least 91% of them have bolstered that they feel a sense of belonging to the UCLA community because of the participation in it. And I can confidently say that it’s because of them that I do feel like I have a home here.
KV: How do you participate in it?
JJ: So when I first joined, or when I first came to UCLA, there was something called the Freshman Summer Program. And in this program, it was purely students of color, people who had similar backgrounds as I did. And so having my first, very first classes at UCLA be with people who look like me, it was a very comforting feeling. Because coming from high school, it was always you’re gonna go to this, you’re gonna go to a predominantly white institution, you’re not going to feel right in, you’re not going to feel like you belong there. And so having my very first interaction with UCLA be with students of color who are under the same program, who are feeling the exact same things that I’m feeling, was a really comforting experience and helped me transition at least into UCLA.
CR: Yeah, no like, that’s interesting, because for me, when I first came to UCLA— so like, I’m a second-year, right? So I’m just starting out my second year, and when I first came I did not know what to do. I don’t know, maybe someone reached out but I ain’t seen it, you know. And I had basically no Latinx friends until basically my spring quarter. And it was freshman year. And it was interesting, because I mean, my background is kind of interesting because I went to a Chinese immersion school when I was a kid for nine years. So I’m really used to being in an academic environment where I’m the only brown kid. But I’m also with the Daily Bruin and I’m actually writing a Daily Bruin story about it. That’s how, you know, that’s how deep that stuff is. Yeah, so to me, it was weird because UCLA had probably some of the most diverse classes I’ve ever been in. I mean, I have never seen this many white people. Like, that’s, I’m not even joking, bro. Like, I’d be walking up the Hill and stuff like that, and it’s like, ayo, where do they all come from? You know what I’m saying? I mean, it’s interesting because it’s both so diverse, yet so not. It’s weird.
JJ: No, that makes complete sense. I think I was lucky in the fact that because I was in that Freshman Summer Program, my very first friends were other Latino students. To this day, one of my closest friends – I’ve met her through FSP – she was literally my rock through the pandemic year that I had my freshman year through transitioning last year, and even now. I think I was lucky in that sense, but it was also a very weird thing for me to go from purely Black and brown students and FSP. And those were all my classes too, going to giant lecture halls, going to discussion sections, where I was the only brown person. That was a really weird thing to navigate for myself, that, how could I go from all these classes with purely Black and brown students who I could relate to, to the very next year going to discussion sections with white people who didn’t know how to look at me like. They looked at me like I didn’t belong, like I wasn’t meant to be there.
CR: Yeah, that’s the thing though, right? It’s somewhat of the reality of being brown in an academic setting as prestigious as this. It’s like, you’re— because it’s different here. It is different, right? Okay, so a little bit of context. So that Chinese school that I went to, that is like, pretty far. It’s relatively far from where I live. I’m from San Francisco. It’s relatively far from where I live in San Francisco. That’s to say that it’s in a different part of the city. And I went to high school in my area, which meant no white people, a lot of brown people. Still a lot of Chinese people, but it’s like, it was interesting. I’d never seen so many white people. I keep saying that, but it’s like, this place is so fundamentally different from a lot of the places that Latinx students come from, you know?
KV: Just out of curiosity, do you speak Chinese?
CR: I do, I do. Don’t ask me to, but I do. It’s on my record, it’s on the resume. But like, I speak, now I speak Mandarin and Cantonese.
JJ: It’s just a flex.
CR: Yeah, it’s just a flex, basically. That’s I put it on my, I put it on my college apps and everything, you know what I’m saying? But like, no, I mean, that was interesting for me to grow up sort of having a completely different environment at school and then a completely different environment at home. You know, like, I grew up with that code switch, right? And it’s like, a code switch that a lot of Latinos students have.
JJ: Oh, absolutely.
CR: And so it’s like, elementary, middle school, rich people, right? High school, not to so rich people. And then UCLA, rich people. And that’s why it’s like, it was like a flip flop, you know, and so I’m so attuned to that code switch. So coming back here was really jarring, obviously, but it was also sort of like, alright, now we’re back. Yeah, and so it’s like, it’s different here. You know, it’s different. It’s like, the way they walk bro. It’s weird, it’s weird. I mean, obviously, the way they talk is different, right?
JJ: Okay, there’s like so many things I can dissect there.
JJ: Just start with like, one at a time. Yeah, I think. Well, on your sheet, we talked about survivor’s guilt, right?
JJ: Only the best of us make it here.
JJ: Which is, I think, one of the hardest things that I’ve had to deal with. Right, ’cause I don’t know about you, but at least for me when I went, I grew up in South Central LA.
JJ: Predominantly Black and brown students everywhere. And I guess I call myself lucky because so many people put so many resources into me.
JJ: And they put so much time and effort because they saw something in me that I didn’t see.
JJ: And I think when I get here, it’s like, why couldn’t I, why couldn’t they put in that many resources into someone else?
JJ: Why didn’t they put that, why didn’t they share, why would they only focus on one single person?
CR: It’s just like the “why me?” right?
JJ: Yeah. It’s just like, why me of all people? And then it’s weird because when you get that feeling, and you’re reflecting on it on like random-ass days, you’re kind of just like, OK, now I need to do— it’s this subconscious pressure that you put on yourself. Because from day one, someone has already put pressure on you.
CR: Yeah, it’s like you’re not there for yourself.
CR: You’re there because people sacrificed around you to make it possible, right? For me, it was, there was a good chance I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t go to that Chinese immersion school. Because like, it was so academically intensive. Like it was the thing that ingrained in my— like, I’m mortally terrified of getting a B. I’m like, “Oh, my God, the world is gonna end.” Obviously, it’s not true, right? Yeah, it’s not true, it’s not true. This is an advice podcast, you should be OK with getting B’s. But like, that mentality ultimately contributes to my academic success, and obviously, ultimately contributes to me being where I am. Right? And so that inherently is like, well, my parents went through so much to get me to that school, right? Like, there were so many people from my neighborhood and like, sort of further into the city and stuff like that. Like, if they were presented with the same opportunities, they would go just as far or farther. Yeah, and so it doesn’t feel like anything but luck, right?
JJ: Yeah. It’s just like, there’s something that’s not natural that’s at work. At least for me, it eats me, eats at me, like, I wouldn’t say on a daily basis but on a consistent basis.
JJ: It’s like I always have something to prove. Like, I’m never enough regardless of what I do.
JJ: So yes, I’m now the assistant Photo editor at the Daily Bruin but it doesn’t feel like I’ve accomplished something that’s so out of this league, right?
JJ: I think one of my biggest motivations for applying to be an editor was because I didn’t see a lot of brown people in general, right?
JJ: UCLA boasts about having one of the biggest Latinx populations in the country and admitting classes. But where are they?
JJ: Like you mentioned, I don’t really see them up the Hill.
CR: You don’t see him.
JJ: You don’t see them in classes. So where are they?
CR: That’s the thing, right? And it’s like, when you find them too, we’ll talk about finding them in a sec. But like, when you do find them, man, they’re insane. They’re, like, the most amazing people you’ve ever met. They’re, like, so smart, so talented. They’re so passionate about something, like I mean, they got something, right? But it’s like, that’s the bittersweet thing, part of it, right? It’s like, they got something because only, like, the best of us made it out. They only select a couple of us, right? And so it’s like, all of us are really conscious of everybody else who didn’t make it, right? And if every— we all have, like, so many people in mind, who we think maybe are kind of more deserving of our spot, right?
JJ: Oh, absolutely.
CR: Or like, could have done just as well or like—
JJ: Or have done better.
CR: Or done better. And so it’s like, that sort of – you said that, right, like that sort of survivor’s guilt. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. It does eat at you, you know, and it’s like you’re sitting in class and like, “damn.”
JJ: I think the worst part is it just eats at you randomly. It’s not a very set thing. It can be consistent but it can be consistently inconsistent. And that’s the worst part, that you’ll be fine for a week straight.
CR: You’ll have that like—
JJ: You’ll have that high.
CR: Yeah, those moments where you’re like, “I’m the sh*t.”
JJ: I belong here, like no one else could have done this except for me. Yeah. And then the next day, you’ll be laying on your bed wondering, “Why am I here?”
JJ: Which is the sh*ttiest feeling.
CR: Yeah. And it’s like the nature of the adversity that we inherently— because this stuff was like, I mean, these buildings like— well, when was UCLA built? 1919? Bro, these bricks were not laid for us.
JJ: No, no, no. OK, what am I, what— I had to do this poetry thing, right, you know, FSP? Yeah. And one of my favorite things that I came up with was that this institution wasn’t designed for people who look like us, but it was built by people who look like us.
JJ: And that’s the thing.
CR: That’s the thing, right? We’ve been talking about the students and the faculty and stuff like that, but where do you find people that look like your mom, bro?
CR: No, no, no. Serving your food.
JJ: No— oh, you’re right.
CR: Cleaning your bathrooms and stuff.
JJ: You’re right, you’re right. So I guess this segues right into, like, my own little perspective.
JJ: So I didn’t, I wasn’t on campus, right, during my first year, because of the pandemic and whatever. So I call myself an honorary freshman last year.
JJ: So one of the biggest challenges I had was facing culture shock. I thought I was going to be used to it because I was used to going up to summer camp with my family, well with my dad, and like, other Black and brown kids. And we were the only two groups that were there at summer camp every single year to the point that we kind of stick out like how fire throws out an ember. That’s how we stick out. You would notice us and so I was used to that, at least I thought I was. So when I came here and I found, and it was hard to find people who look like me, it was a really challenging thing. And when my very first experience with trying to join the Latino org, the very first thing that popped up was that they had sexual and rape allegations against them, and that was something that I didn’t want to associate myself with. So for me to have my very first group, or my very first attempt at trying to find belonging, and in that, was a really disheartening thing. And a couple of days later, I think even the next day, they bought a birria truck, and I went and I tried it. This was the first time I had a conversation in Spanish since I left home. I went back to my dorm that night, called my mom to tell her how happy I was.
JJ: And I started bawling to her.
JJ: I started bawling out of, I guess it was a mixture of emotions, right? It was, I got to speak in my native tongue for the first time again, I met people who look like me, who are willing to talk to me in Spanish – because I think it’s another thing a lot of Latino students here kind of don’t talk in Spanish.
CR: No, yeah. Like, I don’t.
JJ: No, I don’t either, but that’s an entirely different conversation.
CR: Yeah, I got you.
JJ: But I started bawling, right? And I was explaining to my mom how hard it was, how difficult was to be a Latino here. Yeah, and I told her about my experience with that first attempt, and she was comforting me. She does what moms do best, like comfort you, tell you that you belong there, that you’re loved and whatever and that you can talk to her for whatever reason. And so that was really heartwarming, right? But I think at that point, I needed to find comfort in something else.
JJ: So I found comfort in the most unusual places in the most unusual community.
JJ: And it’s what you said: the janitors, the cleaning ladies, the people who were serving you food. So when I lived in Dykstra, I made friends with the cleaning ladies. The lady who cleaned my restroom every week.
CR: It’s so heartwarming, bro. It’s so, I see her and like, oh, she looks like my aunt.
JJ: She looks like my friend’s mom.
CR: Dude, and she’s like, she’s like, “oh—
JJ: “Como está, amigo? Have you eaten or whatever?”
CR: Yeah, and it’s like, “damn.”
JJ: When you talk in Spanish with them, you can see their smiles light up behind their eyes.
JJ: That’s like the most heartwarming thing ever because as students, at least students of color, we’re feeling ostracized all the time.
JJ: Do you ever think about how ostracized they are feeling?
CR: Yeah, exactly. Right.
JJ: They have to go around cleaning, and half of them don’t even say anything to them.
JJ: So for us to talk in their native tongue, for us to go out of our way to just say hi to them, to see how they’re doing, it’s the most heartwarming thing ever. And I think that’s where I found my community at least last year. I still do it now. But it was literally just finding community in the most unusual places. That’s what saved me.
KV: Are there any clubs or classes that you feel like are more, there are more students that look like you or anything?
JJ: The sad part is, there is, but it’s the classes that you know will have them.
CR: Yeah, exactly.
JJ: It’s the diversity classes, it’s the ethnic studies. You will see every single person that looks like you.
JJ: Anything apart from that you won’t see anyone. Maybe one or two but that’s it.
CR: One or two. It’s like, it’s so weird, right? That in this diverse institution, we have to go out of our way to find that community. You’ll find that community in places that you don’t expect, you have to go find the Latinx clubs, you have to go find the Latinx classes, right? A lot of Latinx people here are doing some kind of like a major or studying something related to the Latinx experience, right? I know a bunch of people are in Chicano, Chicanx studies, and like, I’m trying to get a Spanish minor, right? And it’s like, that’s where you find it. And if you’re not in those classes, you don’t find it. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s crazy, right? But that’s the thing, though. Our eyes kind of see it as like a silver lining in a way. Essentially, chances are, you might not find any if you don’t look for them. But because of that, every other Latinx kid is looking for you too, you know? They’re looking for you just as hard as you’re looking for them, right? And so it’s like, everyone’s congregating there because everyone wants the same thing as you.
CR: And so it’s like, it’s sad but it’s nice.
JJ: Yeah, I think that’s more of like another bittersweet moment, right?
CR: Yeah, exactly.
JJ: It’s sad that we have to find a community in the exact places that we know it’s going to be.
JJ: It’s almost like stereotyping in a way.
CR: Yeah, exactly. You have to adhere to that.
JJ: Yeah, exactly, you have to adhere to some social norm at some societal level.
CR: Bro, we’re being ghettoized.
JJ: We’re being ghettoized?
CR: Dude, this literally sanctioning us into ghettos. Oh, my God, I just realized.
JJ: Are you calling the Chicano/Chicanx studies a ghetto?
CR: No, because is that not what it is, right? It’s like, “Oh, you guys can find people and congregate, but only in the places that we let you.” That’s crazy. That’s one way to look at it.
JJ: That is one way to look at it.
CR: But I’m not— that’s a perspective.
JJ: We’re sociology majors.
CR: Exactly. That’s what we’re doing, that’s what we’re doing.
JJ: But like, you also know that that’s exactly where they’re going. So like, even if you do feel out of place, right, for like a day or two, you can go to any of those clubs and you’ll feel at home.
CR: Oh, dude, it’s so nice.
JJ: But the moment you step out of it.
CR: You’re back.
JJ: You’re back, yeah. And it’s kind of horrible. I don’t want to take Chicano and Chicana classes just to find people who look like me. I want to be able to take my major-oriented classes with people who look like me, and not have to go to like, a specialty, right? Because that’s just messed up on so many levels.
CR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s so interesting too because it’s such a weird intersection of all the things that we’re here for, right? Because the other thing is like Chicano/Chicanx studies and Spanish majors, that’s not going to make you any money. And it’s like—
JJ: We laugh about it, right? But that’s the truth.
CR: That’s the truth. And the problem is that like, a lot of us are here for that because of that sort of pressure, right, that we talked about earlier. It’s that sort of, like you’re the only one from your block who’s here kind of thing, right? And so it’s like, you’re there, there’s this pressure – we talked about pressure, but there’s this pressure as a Latinx student. And it’s like, it’s basically family. It’s like family, I mean, it’s very cultural, right? But like, family is so important.
JJ: Because it’s just been ingrained in us.
CR: It’s just been, since day one. And it’s like, it’s a whole different—
JJ: It’s a whole different topic.
CR: Yeah, it’s a whole different topic. But the idea, there are a lot of people here who are here for themselves, right? And that’s fine, that’s fine. You’re here to push your own, like, incentive.
JJ: I wish I was here for myself.
CR: Yeah, right.
JJ: I wish I was here for myself.
CR: It’s like, that’s good. You know, like, good on you, bro. You’re making money for yourself. That’s awesome, good for you. But the problem is that, when I was 11, my dad told me that I need to make money to support my family. He was like, I— dude, this is actually a crazy story. I was, he was driving me to school, and I was in, like, sixth grade or something. And we were parked in front of the school, and it was like an hour or so before school started because my parents started really early. And so we stopped there for a second because I was like, “Hold up, bro, I’m trying to do my math homework real quick.” And so I was doing my math homework.
JJ: “Hold up, dad.”
CR: “Hold up bro, give me a sec.” And he was like, “Yeah alright, bet.” But my dad, he talks a lot, right? So I mean, I don’t know if you noticed but I talk a lot. But like—
JJ: I wonder who you got it from.
CR: Yeah, exactly. But so my dad talks a lot. And so he took the opportunity to give me a lecture, right? That’s a whole other topic, but basically, the lecture went along the lines of, “Oh, you have to make money. You have to get a lot of scholarships so we can pay for everyone else’s college education too, and you have to make money to support the family going forward.” And it’s like, bro, I’m just trying to do my math homework.
JJ: I’m in sixth grade.
CR: I’m in sixth grade. Ayo.
CR: Ayo. And so it’s like that, I mean, just from day one. It’s like, the reality of being here is that, I mean, we’ve talked about it, but not a lot of us are here. And so it’s like, the responsibility that we hold to go far and then sort of like, reach back and try and bring people up with us.
CR: That’s something that weighs on you every day.
JJ: No, it does. Absolutely.
CR: And so, but yeah, it’s crazy. And so it’s like, it’s a really intersectional crazy, you know, everything sort of playing with each other kind of thing. Because like, Chicano/Chicanx studies doesn’t make you money, but that’s where you’re gonna find the Latinx people. But if you’re trying to make money, you’re not going to see any Latinx people. And so it’s like, the systems are made like that for a reason, obviously.
JJ: Obviously, that’s what we talked about.
CR: It’s what we talked about.
JJ: This place wasn’t designed for people who look like us.
JJ: They were built on the backs of people who look like us.
CR: Exactly, exactly.
KV: Bruin101 is brought to you by the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper. You can listen to this show and others by the Daily Bruin on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud, and a transcript for this show is available at dailybruin.com. Thanks, everyone. See you next week.