At most universities in the United States, white students constitute the majority of the student population. At a considerable number of University of California campuses, Asian-American students have outnumbered their white counterparts.
However, at the community college I attend, the Latin@ students, whom are considered a minority group in most American universities, have the lion’s share of seats in the system. That isn’t to say that the school isn’t diverse; I see considerable numbers of Asian-American, black and white students on a daily basis. But coming from a high school where the population of Asian-American students hits the sky, it isn’t an overstatement to say that the past few months I’ve spent here have been quite shocking, in the very least.
I first stepped foot into Mt. San Antonio College this summer. Although I knew the demographic of the school is predominantly Latin@, I was still a young, Asian-American student from a sea of identical fish, carefully bundled in bubble-wrap, shielded from the school of “exotic” fish and “colorful” coral reefs. Simply put, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what was in store for me or predict that wave after wave of culture shock would hit me as soon as I walked through the open door of my Honors English class.
As I entered and quickly scanned the room for an empty seat, 20 pairs of eyes turned and gave me a slow once-over. So I did the same, realizing with a sinking feeling that I was the only Asian-American student in the room. Okay, pause. You may say, “So? What’s wrong with that?” Nothing, really, but please keep in mind that I had never been in a classroom where over 50 percent of the population wasn’t of Asian descent. Heck, the only non-Asian person in my senior English class was the teacher.
Anyhow, being an Asian-American at a predominantly Latin@ institution is definitely something different. First of all, the pressure that I have to be smart just because I’m Asian doesn’t exist as a painful weight on my shoulders anymore. Back in high school, I was expected to pass all my tests and receive flawless grade reports, because that’s “just what Asians do.” While some of my friends thrived off this twisted standard, I always shrunk away from it. I berated myself whenever my academic performance wasn’t up to par according to the standard so many at my school unknowingly set in place. Here in college, I am judged and evaluated based on my performance as an individual student, at least so far. It’s really no surprise I’m doing so much better academically.
At a deeper level, often being one of the very few Asian-American students in class has allowed me to break out of my little bubble and experience a little slice of what I think the world is like. Community colleges are home to such a wide variety of people of different ages and colors, and merely being in that sort of environment changes the way you look at the world, more or less. The few months I’ve spent here have turned me into someone more sympathetic, empathetic and knowledgeable of a world outside a place where everyone is self-absorbed and working their tails off only to gain acceptance into a prestigious university. In sum, everything I did before college was only to stack my resume and impress college admissions officers. Now, it’s something much more than that. No longer do I undertake tasks that I honestly can care less about, merely for the sake of wanting to wow some people.
The various stereotypes I’ve had about Latin@ people in general have been put to sleep as well. The Latin@ students here are so hard-working and determined, and a great number of them boast a perfect 4.0 GPA. That always strikes me as amazing because a lot of them work or are parents already. Despite the many hardships they face, these students are beating the negative label and are shining as students and individuals. I mean it when I say I’m privileged to be able to attend such a great college, though it’s one many people shun as low-grade.
Ultimately, being a minority at a predominantly Latin@ institution has been a great, eye-opening experience for me so far. I know I’ll finish strong this first year, and I cannot wait to be knocked over again with even greater experiences next year.