I remember going to college fairs during high school and talking to recruiters about what my potential plans for study would be during college. I inevitably told them the same thing – that I wanted to learn at least three foreign languages – and they would inevitably give me that same blank stare and slow blink, as though asking, “And how exactly do you expect to do that?”
I did, after all, stubborn soul that I am. Spanish, German, and Czech are the great romances of my academic life, but my journey wasn’t the glorious, epic adventure I had imagined. Instead, it was a slow and often painful sojourn through life. I had hoped to study abroad but was never able to, first because of financial hardship and then because of personal tragedy. I won’t glorify my undergraduate years – it was a trying and often lonely time. Even so, it was the most growing and meaningful period of my life thus far, forming a beautiful patchwork tapestry of disparate pieces that I wove together in the most unexpected of ways – through a deep connection between heritage, religion, and academics.
To me, language classes are like candy for a six-year-old: I can’t get enough. However, Spanish, in particular, has never been a purely academic endeavor for me –I’m a quarter Mexican, and Spanish is the language of my heritage. It’s my grandfather’s language. I can still vividly remember sitting at my grandfather’s feet in the living room of my house, reading Spanish newspapers out loud for him. I could never quite separate the family side of Spanish from my academic life. My relationship with Spanish is littered with questions of identity and belonging – and the overwhelming sense that I am not enough. This thought ate away at me even as I dove deeper and deeper into the treasure trove of Spanish literature and fell in love with every little grammatical quirk of the language. Though I longed for more connection, I was too fearful of rejection to involve myself in the Latinx community, until an unexpected religious opportunity came up.
I grew up in a deeply religious household, and my faith remains the cornerstone of my life. At the beginning of my freshman year of college, I got involved in a Christian student organization called Cru. I became a Bible study leader during the second semester of my junior year – when it was announced that Cru would be launching a “contextualized ministry” for students who valued Latinx culture called Destino. This served to integrate me with the Latinx community here at U of M – so much so that I went on part time staff with Destino in the year following graduation. At long last, I was able to link religion with involvement in the Latinx community – a connection I sought to deepen academically through my honors thesis.
I wrote my honors thesis on the role of Liberation Theology Catholicism in the Salvadoran Civil War and the Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution. It was comforting to acknowledge academically that religion can be as revolutionary as I have always known it to be in my own life. Being able to integrate all my interests together made my honors thesis the greatest joy of my academic career, and I hope to continue to research similar topics (and maybe learn a few more languages along the way) by pursuing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature or Spanish.