Attending school here has been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl. The university is so close to Pismo, my home away from home. Once I found out that there was a college so close to Pismo, I had it in my sights. I worked hard, kept my grades up, and was finally admitted spring 2015. I was overjoyed that this dream of mine was coming true. After attending Polycultural Weekend toward the end of my spring break senior year, I was so excited and so ready to attend in the fall. I had made new friends, found my future sorority, and found a place I could call home.
Come fall 2015, the time came to leave my home of 17 years to start this new chapter in my life. I was excited....excited to finally work toward a future in animal science and be a 20-minute ride from the beach. However, I was also nervous. Coming from a very close family and very small town, it was so different for me to not know anyone and to have to put myself out there. I was lonely and somewhat lost as to how I should navigate this new independence and foreign environment. That all changed when I became a sister of Lambda Sigma Gamma Sorority, Incorporated.
My sisterhood is the only multi-cultural organization on the Cal Poly campus and is a part of USFC, the United Sorority and Fraternity Council, which has 11 cultural sororities and fraternities that fall under its umbrella. One of the things that made me feel so welcome in this sisterhood was the fact that it was, indeed, multi-cultural. It’s members are women of all body shapes, sizes, backgrounds and cultures. I didn’t feel judged for being plus-sized and taller than most. I felt accepted, loved and so at home. Having been a member for almost three years, I have seen my chapter grow and welcome other strong, beautiful, and determined women.
I am multi-cultural. My background has its roots in the Hispanic and Portuguese cultures and I have taken part in traditions from both cultures throughout my life. My Vavau (my mom’s mom) is very proud to be Portuguese. With each grandchild and great-grandchild she has welcomed into this world, she has tried to expose us to her heritage as much as possible. She used Portuguese phrases when she spoke to us as infants, like telling us to drink our “leite” (Portuguese for milk). She made us rice pudding and went with us to the festa, a yearly celebration that happens near the Catholic feast of Pentecost.
Likewise, my Nana (my dad’s mom) is very proud of her Mexican background. Over the course of my lifetime, she has helped me and my siblings learn about various aspects of her culture. She has made us traditional dishes, such as bunuelos and my favorite potato and cheese red sauce enchiladas, encouraged me and my brothers when we were learning to speak Spanish in high school, and shared stories with us about her family, upbringing, and traditions.
Both cultures are beautiful in their own right and offer so much to anyone who decides to explore them. This beauty and uniqueness is seen in all cultures, something that my sorority embraces. However, as of late, our country, and even my university, has not seen eye to eye with me on this.
This spring, around the time of the Polycultural weekend program, an act of racial insensitivity struck on campus. A brother of the fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha used blackface, at the same brotherhood event where other members dressed in gangster stereotypes.
This incident, which is not the first act of racial indecency Cal Poly has experienced, hurt so many students on campus, including my sisters. I have thought about what I wanted to say about this incident for a long time and have even struggled when making the decision to address it (as I wasn’t attending classes at the university when it happened). However, seeing a sister address it in a way that I related with and knowing that there are members of our community getting ready to attend Cal Poly in the fall, I felt I had to say something.
Even though I am a part of the Mexican and Portuguese cultures, many people I went to school with didn’t see it. That and the fact that I have been lucky enough to have been raised in a community where all backgrounds are welcome led me to believe that racism was a thing of the past. I knew there were slurs, images, and acts that negatively portrayed different races, but they weren’t an everyday thing that I had to deal with.
Going to Cal Poly, especially around the time when Trump was elected into the presidency, I began to see these cruel acts first hand. Seeing as over 50 percent of the student population is white, the growing tension on campus correlated with the tension seen across the nation. I would see messages in my sorority group chat where one of my sisters was racially profiled and was scared because of the comments made towards her by a white student. I hated seeing these messages and it made me sad to see my sisters were put in a position where they felt they had to tell each other to be safe on campus. My heart ached for them and while I wanted to comfort them and ask what I could to help, I felt like I wasn’t able to.
The pain and hurt that this nationally-covered incident has caused my organization and other students of color is one that I don’t personally understand, and that makes me feel guilty. It also makes me question if I have ever done anything to hurt someone in this way. I know I have been privileged enough to have never experienced an incident of this kind, but I still hurt knowing that my sisters have been hurt. Being a member of LSG has brought me so many memories and has helped me through so much and being a part of Cal Poly’s USFC community has shown me the magic that can happen when different communities come together and coexist.
So while this may be seen as more political than I and the pieces I usually write are, I felt it was something I needed to address. Our nation and those who populate it often forget that we began as a melting pot. Through the teamwork of people from different backgrounds, we were able to separate ourselves from England and flourish. There is a saying those who ignore history are bound to repeat it, and I believe that’s exactly what’s happening. We are all human, and we all need to remind ourselves of the golden rule. Until we get to a point where we all treat others how we want to be treated, the divide in our country is only going to become more obvious.
The fact that incidents like this have become far too common, even in an environment where people are learning in order to be able to contribute to our society in a way they see fit, is quite eye-opening.
To those in our community who are preparing to attend any university, not just Cal Poly, please find a way to embrace other cultures and backgrounds while respectfully living by your moral and political beliefs. College is hard enough as it is.
Students shouldn’t have to fear for their safety, too.
Bobbi Solano is a 2015 Orestimba High graduate. She was a summer intern at Mattos Newspapers before returning to San Luis Obispo to resume her studies at Cal Poly.