Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Is there a disconnect between Hispanic international students and Hispanic-American?

Rachel Choi
Illustration by Rachel Choi.

As I near the end of my college journey, I grapple with the realization that I never truly connected with the Hispanic community at Emerson. 

Despite Emerson’s poor record in tracking its racial and ethnic disparities (categorizing “international” as an ethnic group), approximately 11 percent of the college’s population is Hispanic. However, being Hispanic doesn’t automatically bridge the gap between Hispanic-Americans and international Hispanic students.

During my initial months at Emerson, I anxiously scanned my classes, hoping to hear someone speak Spanish so I could introduce myself. Though I understood that Emerson was a predominantly white institution, I never expected to spend the next three years as the seemingly only Dominican student in most of my classes. Considering Boston has such a large Dominican diaspora, I assumed I would encounter a long lost cousin at some point. 

Over time I found wonderful people and organizations on campus that fostered welcoming spaces for Hispanic students. However, by the time I found these resources, I had already established friendships and felt hesitant to start anew. It seemed too difficult to start over. What truly made embracing these organizations difficult was the sheer disparity between international students and residents. 

In the last two decades, the number of Latinx students enrolled in United States colleges has tripled to over three million. Of these, only one-fifth were born outside the U.S., and five percent of enrolled college students are nonresident noncitizens. Latinx college students are most likely U.S. citizens, likely raised in the U.S., and 75 percent can converse in Spanish with limited proficiency.

Despite these diverse statistics and the existence of 20 Spanish-speaking countries with distinct cultures and variations of Spanish, my perception was skewed. Years of media consumption that lumped all Spanish speaking individuals into one mold, coupled with a desire to just speak my native language, led me to assume commonality with any Hispanic person I met. The reality is that not all Hispanic people understand each other. While there’s a sense of solidarity due to shared language and common challenges faced in the U.S., the deep connection I sought wasn’t often found among those I met at Emerson.

According to Pew Research, a survey revealed that only 69 percent of respondents believed that the 50 million Latinos in the U.S. have diverse cultures, rather than a common one. To the 31 percent of respondents, I ask: what makes you assume that among 33 Latin American countries and 20 Spanish-speaking countries, there would be a more common culture? More importantly, how was this ignorance extended to me, someone who grew up in Latin America? Only after moving to Boston did I realize that while there is a shared connection to the Spanish language, it was one that didn’t always extend to me. 

For one, Dominican Spanish, with its distinct accent and slang, is often a communication barrier. I found myself wanting to make jokes or get involved in conversation only to feel misunderstood. I was constantly repeating myself, slowing down, or having to re-explain what I meant. Sometimes it felt worse than just speaking English with my peers and having them correct my pronunciation. 

Commonality amongst other Dominicans was also scarce. When I finally did find other Dominicans to talk to, I often discovered that many grew up in the U.S. or didn’t speak Spanish fluently. While this wasn’t their fault, it still hindered the connection I desired. Conversations remained at a surface level, lacking the desired depth, shared attitude, consistent rhythm in our speech that makes me feel truly at home. I couldn’t engage in any political discourse, discuss pop culture, or even share music about my home country with the people I met at Emerson. 

It’s crucial to acknowledge and respect the differences in culture for Dominicans and other Hispanics growing up in the states: U.S.-born Hispanics often express a stronger sense of affinity with other Americans and America than immigrant Hispanics. Though this is understandable, it also makes sense that Hispanic international students would find it difficult to connect with many U.S. Hispanics. There’s an entire cultural experience we miss out on. This isn’t inherently bad or good. I believe the cultural experience can sometimes work against us, particularly for financially underprivileged families or non-English speakers, etc. In my case, it’s just that the way we grow up is so different from American culture, despite our “similar heritage.”

As I found my place in Boston and discovered fragments of my home outside of Emerson, I realized the substantial differences between Dominican international students and students of their home country. One significant difference lies in their views on ‘national identity‘ in the diaspora.

For most Caribbean immigrants in the United States, race plays a crucial role in the formation of their cultural identities. As a white Dominican, I don’t face this hurdle personally. However, it impacts my relationships with Dominicans in the diaspora who are often told their identities aren’t valid and are intertwined with U.S. racial constructs. 

The radicalization of Dominican immigrants limits their opportunities in labor and housing. I realized that the sheer lack of Dominicans in Emerson and  my lack of connection with Dominicans in the diaspora was a direct reflection of this systemic issue. 

I simply do not have the experience of having to internalize these psychosocial constructs as part of their early socialization, both in my native country but especially as an immigrant in the U.S. Understanding the longing for a sense of belonging in a country with a history of slavery, racism, and xenophobia makes me recognize my privilege to navigate the world without primarily being seen as “Dominican.” 

The mass exodus from the Dominican Republic has culturally re-defined Dominican’s  racial identity, and it’s unlikely for me to find a community at Emerson, a school that systematically excludes an already underprivileged group. So while the lack of Dominican/Hispanic diversity at Emerson affected me from a more emotional standpoint, it’s reflective of a much larger issue. 

My pursuit of a sense of belonging at Emerson, although deeply personal, has illuminated the systemic inadequacies prevalent in higher education institutions. Hispanic Heritage Month served as a poignant reminder that while I harbor love, appreciation, and solidarity for my fellow Hispanic students at Emerson, our experiences and backgrounds greatly vary. 

Hispanic international students do not form a monolithic ethnic group, and naturally, finding a sense of community is challenging. Understanding these barriers, especially  in PWIs like Emerson, where a lack of financial access excludes many Hispanics communities, means we can find ourselves scattered. I am grateful for the Hispanic friends I have made in Emerson, and hopefully one day I won’t have to be one of the few Dominicans in the room. 

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About the Contributor
Shannon Garrido
Shannon Garrido, Editor-in-chief
Shannon Andera Garrido Berges (she/her) currently serves as editor-in-chief, formerly she managed global content and covers news centered around the Caribbean. Her interests include Dominican politics, pop culture, and environmental reporting. She is an undergrad at Emerson College, majoring in Journalism.

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