I don’t keep it a secret that I failed out of my second choice college spectacularly. I got into every school I applied for, broke my ass, and then burned out hot as a supernova. This would also lead me to good things later in life, but my my twenties – fuck me if they weren’t pathetic.
I always tell folks the lesson: don’t let an 18 year old who hangs out in the Village loose with the Village as his campus.
Seriously, the semester and a half I spent at NYU was a disaster.
That said, with hindsight, there’s more to just a hardy-har-har story about being a teenage idiot (but bear with me, being a teenage idiot was something I excelled at).
We need to dig into the whys. Like, why did I get into all five colleges I applied to? Well, obviously my grades. I was in the top 10-20 in my school throughout my academic career. I wasn’t kind nerd of book mountain, but I was certainly a book smart kid. And that’s fine.
Problem 1, though? I was poor as fuck.
So that meant grants. I earned a few. Got a little scholarship here and there too, but none of it was enough to carry me through four years at an Ivy League. That was until I was offered an opportunity at NYU – a program built to help Hispanic (I know, I hate that word) students get a fair shake.
And me, in my excellent teenage stupidity, I fucking HATED that program. I hated that I had to play the marginalized card. That I was, in my mind, segregated in a way. I was “special” because I wasn’t the same as some of my classmates – students there on mommy & daddy’s dime.
Now I realize that hate, that intense lashing out which would lead to me wasting a FREE FUCKING RIDE AT AN IVY LEAGUE COLLEGE, was entirely rooted in self hatred and indoctrination of that hate born out of a lifetime of private school and a system built too make me hate myself for taking advantage of opportunities I would find out were CONSTANTLY afforded to those I wish I could be.
Told you, teenage stupidity would be fucking elite level here.
I don’t blame myself as much as I’m conveying, though. I understand we’re all learning and navigating our paths as best we can and its really only the benefit of experience that has taught me that the things I’ve learned and realized about my own identity are good no matter when I did realize them.
Which leads me to now. A marginalized writer navigating the waters of an industry that often “hints” at how much it despises me, a mouthy, know-it-all spic who can string a few words together in a way that satisfies a few people.
I’ve spoken before about the struggle I went through with using my real name, with leveraging who I was as a platform. For a while, it felt wrong and I couldn’t understand why. Why should it feel wrong to be me? Why should it feel wrong to admit that I’m one of maybe 3 (THREE) Puerto Ricans in my scene? Why should it feel wrong to not only question that but also ask for the ability to have my work amplified. Not for my own gain (I mean, come on, this is rarely a path to riches) but in order to show folks like me that yes, we can fucking do this? We can be funny. We can be poignant. We can be literary within genre even!
And at first, I followed the same path I did at NYU. I let people schmooze me in order to look good – to look woke. I fell into a few networking traps that benefit everyone but myself. That internalized shame and hatred was still very present and I’d done such an excellent job of shutting it away for so long that it very nearly ate me alive again. I wanted to shun the idea I was marginalized. How could I be? I was better than that.
I wish I could say that’s different now, but it isn’t. I struggle with this every single fucking day. I struggle with it when I label a piece #ownvoices or when I write something in a language people are literally harassed and beaten over. I struggle when I try to relate to my fellow Latinx writers, wondering if I even belong because of my own struggles with who I am and my mixed ethnicity. I struggle with how the mainstream sees me because there are expectations of my behavior – of HOW I say things versus WHAT I say. Do I speak truth or half-truth? Do I cater to my own feelings or do I cater to a group who see me only as an opportunity to make money or build their social cache?
I don’t have an answer and what I’ve learned is all I can do is continue learning and fight back the shame and self hatred. That path, that resolve, has weathered me into the beginning of my sixth year as a writer. That’s nearly ten times as long as I made it through my time at NYU.
Maybe I am doing something right. Definitely still a little bit of an idiot, but I’ll call it a win.