Todos los días estoy peleando
Una guerra que no estoy ganando;
Contra las ideas que me maldicen
Y todas las mentiras que me dicen!
—Los Crudos, “Desde Afuera” (1993)
I remember high school. I remember I didn’t see academia as some type of conduit or portal, where everything I need in life would be consequent of graduating with a degree: where college equaled the “american dream.” I left that dream in its intangible, abstract, privileged place; I was a Punk kid and nothing in my adolescent, nihilistic mind would convince me of the academy. Plus, among my Brown Thrasher, Metalhead, Punk friends, there was no real talk of college and/or a future. Although many of us entered community college and some (not me) managed to get accepted into a Cal State (and drop out), I was the only one to transfer here: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a research one institution.
But let’s take a small step back. I entered Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC) at the age of eighteen, right after I barely graduated high school. My GPA was as low as 2.5; my graduating GPA in community college was 3.9, a big step forward in my academics. Let’s not assume, though, that GPA means anything or has any exponential value in the world of vast knowledges: we so often marginalize our own community knowledges, our ancestral knowledges, and we never give credit of what we learn outside of the colonial education machine in the United States. We tend to value the westernized academy, we put faith in our public school education, and we trust that we are learning precious knowledge. This isn’t to diminish the efforts of revolutionary and non-conforming educators; this is to acknowledge the failures of many California public schools to provide a holistic approach to teaching, especially in Communities of Color.
When you’ve spent a good majority of your public schooling as an adolescent not wanting to conform to the system or to authority, you usually ask yourself if it would all be worth it to take education seriously. Between the punk shows, the thrash shows, and the ska shows; between anarcho-punk and a fascination with grindcore and powerviolence; music and the LA scene becomes a place of belonging school never offered me. I was content without pursuing a higher education.
The summer after high school entailed me doing nothing but exploring: going to shows and learning about new bands. But this didn’t last as long as I pictured it to.
I would always go to my Dad’s softball games in the summer; it was here that I would meet a longtime family friend who two years prior submitted his dissertation for his PhD in Education. He talked to me at one of the games about what I was doing, whether or not I was going to college. Of course, this conversation was extended into his office one morning at LASC. He was an Extended Opportunities Program and Services (EOPS) counselor, as well as the Puente counselor on campus. In his office room was a painting of Chicano History, a portrait of the Dalai Lama, a poster of Zapatista women and their rights; also, he had his bachelor’s degree of sociology at UCLA, his master’s degree in Education at Cal State Long Beach, and his Phd from Claremont Graduate University, all posted on the wall. I was amazed at all this and the implications behind it all: I could do it too, I could be here.
So he convinced me to go to college.
In Fall 2014 I was enrolled into EOPS and the Puente program. I would start the steps of building myself as a student, and this began my navigation as a Punk in higher education.
Community college brought me closer to understanding the importance of education. But it wasn’t an education for me; this was for my community, my family, y mi Gente. This is the greatest lesson I’ve learned, and it was through an understanding of the Chicanx struggle. But what they never tell you is, once you get into these institutions you are seen very differently to your community, your family, y tu Gente. You become part of the institution that you are critical of on every facet, and your experiences in these institutions are neglected, as though we are automatically full of opportunities that are not subsumed by our white counterparts.
After two years of community college I had achieved my end goal. I applied to only UCs, which were: UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, and UCLA. I did not apply to any CSUs, my Puente counselor at the time confident in my performance as a student. When I was denied acceptance into UC Berkeley in the department of sociology, I was hit with a reality: academia was competitive. But I made the right choice when choosing universities.
Entering UCLA would change the type of student I was completely. Navigating this space has been the most violent and beautiful experiences I have had in my life. Beautiful because I found a community of people who take serious the liberation of our Raza communities; violent because the signs of everyday life here consist of tragic realities: this institution wasn't created for me or you.
Being a Punk and identifying as a Xicano has been in itself an interesting journey. I dress Punk: it’s that stereotypical type of clothing too, with patches on my clothes. I also listen to the music, and I live to explore local and new bands, but I have found listening to it on a daily basis a difficulty. I just don’t have the time to; I can’t even spin my vinyls like I used to. Navigating this place of higher education has taken much out of my Punk spirit and lifestyle. The fast-paced, study-hard lifestyle I had to adapt to, to survive here and live, consisted of a lot of sacrifices that my community college had never made me do. But my Xicano spirit is what is keeping me motivated everyday: I love my community I have fostered here, and I can only hope to keep doing so and connecting myself to everyone.
Kristian Emiliano Vasquez (Mechista de UCLA)
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El Corazon de Abya Yala is a blog project headed by Indigiarte de Abya Yala, the internal art component under MEChA de UCLA. This space will be used to share the writings of Mechistas!