“They misspelled my name. For sure, they misspelled it, and if they didn’t, I probably forgot to add my third middle name. They misspelled my name, and I won’t be able to graduate, or I forgot a core requirement and won’t be able to walk the stage, or they are going to ask me for my school ID, which I didn’t bring, and will have to leave the stadium. I am sure there is an issue, and I won’t be able to walk, and my mom will sit in the bleachers alone. When they finish the stupid silly ceremony, she will wonder where the fuck am I, and I’m going to have to tell her I’m not graduating today, and we wasted a $500 LATAM flight for nothing. They misspelled my name, and I am not going to be able to graduate”.
That was the negative, self-doubting mantra I was repeating in my head over and over, while the scorching Miami heat was melting the makeup on my face. I think the saddest thing about being an immigrant is assuming you are not allowed to have nice things; that good things don’t happen to you unless they are a miracle, so you have to be oh-so-very thankful to God or whoever is up there.
So, when people congratulated me on graduating and getting a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, I mostly replied, “yes, I feel very lucky. Thank you”. It felt trivial, vain even, to say, “thank you so much! I’ve worked so hard to get here!” or do a graduation photoshoot, or get my hair done at the salon, or buy extra ceremony passes, or spend over $30 on a dress because reality weighed heavy on me.
I was not properly proud to be graduating; I was honestly quite embarrassed. I am twenty-six years old, and my peers are three to four years younger than me. I should have started college right after high school. I shouldn’t have taken a three-year gap to sort out my immigration status; I should have taken more than three classes each semester, and I shouldn’t have done my degree online just to keep a job that paid my rent, food, and bills.
It feels stupid to be proud of something that comes so easily to other people.
When Michelle Obama gave her 2015 speech at Tuskegee University, she reminded the graduates of historically black intuition in Alabama that BIPOC have to be “twice as good;” and as I tried to take hold of myself and stop anxiety from taking the best of me this past Sunday, I realized immigrants have to work “twice as hard” to get half of what other people have.
At some point during my university experience, I have had a full-time job, a part-time internship, six classes, graduate school application deadlines, and a collapsing family dynamic abroad because my little brother had an awful car accident.
And the worst part of it is that I am not dealing with nearly as difficult scenarios as many immigrants are struggling with. All in all, I am awfully privileged to have (had) two parents who are (were) university professors and installed in me the passion and comfort of an academic environment. I promise you, most of the people I went to high school with in Venezuela don’t feel as “lucky” as I do.
“It feels stupid to be proud of something that comes so easily to other people.”
They don’t think the “miracle” of going to school is in their path. It’s too difficult. It’s either the language, for which you need a $200 TOEFL and SAT scores; the time, which battles directly with full-time jobs that pay for our existing expenses; the money because we make good enough money to live alone, but according to FAFSA we should be making less for it to cover our college fees; or the meek immigration status, for which most of us are in eternal limbo, “en la dulce espera” as my grandma used to say, of some godly-sent work permit, or residency card, or social security number, “or or or or or,” — tiny insignificant papers that prove to the world that we exist and are worthy of higher education.
So, when I was waiting in line to walk inside the stadium, dressed in my $80 cap and gown (why is this SO expensive? We are not even going to wear it again! Where can I find second-hand gowns to rent? This isn’t sustainable!), explaining in tears to the lady who asked me for my Commencement Pass that I had forgotten it at home, and she nonchalantly told me to fill out a form along with some other fifteen kids who had also forgotten their pass, I realized I wasn’t the only one who struggles at life. I cannot be the only one who found this journey extremely excruciating and tiring.
As stupid as it sounds, the truth is that we are never the only ones. This is why I agreed to write my graduating experience for BELatina, because there are many of us, 6 million Venezuelan immigrants and refugees to be exact, struggling to find our achievements something to be proud of. Yes, be thankful for the blessings, but please, please, please never forget to acknowledge your success, even if it’s three years after the “normal” and you had to work “double as much” as other people.
I am learning to be proud, outspoken, assertive, and sure of my accomplishments. It’s a process, but I am changing my perspective; I do deserve nice things. I deserve a top-tier, ivy-league type school to do my Master’s; I deserve a salary job, I deserve health insurance, and I deserve to be proud of my first novel. We deserve nice things because we have worked our asses off. Y punto.