Reflections on My First Semester at Cal as an Independent, Undocumented LGBTQ+ WOC

This semester consisted of mental breakdowns, espresso shots at 3:00 AM, panic attacks, tears, ramen as the only meal for the day, and of course, one failed midterm grade. This semester made me more consciously aware of the elitist influence on social hierarchy. I was fortunate enough to have pursued my high school education at Leadership Public Schools Richmond, considered one of the most academically rigorous high schools in my hometown. However, it was in my history class during conversation with the privileged that I realized no matter the diligence of my high school, I was behind the trilingual, international, upper class Caucasian majority. Scholarships were not a necessity to these students, they did not stress over the price of textbooks or deal with the struggle of applying for financial aid. They definitely missed out on the fear of losing financial aid if they failed to pass 60% of their classes.

These students were raised on wealth, they tend to travel to different countries, speak multiple languages, and of course, they have familiarity of the concepts covered in class due to the prestigious education provided to them by their parents. I felt as if I was lacking in comparison to these students in every aspect. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a few friends from summer, and for the majority outstanding housemates, yet I still felt lacking.

I had attended office hours day and night for my statistics class and was still failing exams. It felt as if everything I had been working for was going to waste because it seemed as if I was failing in school. I told myself that I struggled simply because mathematics were not my strongest suit, summer was fast paced, and unlike the rest of the Summer Bridge students, I worked part-time. In the end, I still passed all my summer classes and even started off my fall semester with a 3.7 GPA. I felt confident, but most importantly I felt capable. I convinced myself that if I could pass accelerated STEM courses in the summer, I could definitely take on the fall semester.

These were classes leaning towards my interests and while they simply met graduation requirements, they seemed fun to take. But while they seemed fun to take, actually taking them was a different story. There I was,walking out of my Korean midterm utterly destroyed. I studied, but I still failed. At this moment, I suddenly regretted everything I had done in order to reach this level of education. I could hear my family’s emotionally abusive words in the back of my head, assuring me that I was never ready to attend a four year university much less Cal. Did I really think I could handle studying amongst students that seemed to know it all and certainly had it all? Not only did I feel as if I was never going to catch up academically; I felt out of place in a way I had never felt before, which is the majority of my lifetime considering I am an undocumented pansexual woman of color.

I felt alone for most of my semester, but I certainly wasn’t. It wasn’t until I broke down to my housemate, Brandon Perez, that I was able to realize my housemates, for the majority, were my safe space. I opened up to Brandon about my frustrations and fears of being part of the LGBTQ community, as well as being undocumented and low income on such a large campus. Brandon who is a chemistry major, undocumented transfer student from East LA, exemplified the notion that I could do it all and encouraged me to seek office hours in a different way than the summer. He lifted my spirits, shared the same struggle as undocumented LGBTQ student, and made me feel understood. He made me realize, those students, in fact, did not know it all. They have no experiential knowledge regarding resilience nor hard work and that is okay. It is okay because students like Brandon and I will still attain our degrees and at the end of these few years, our degrees will be from the same institution as those students which seemed to have it all.

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Yendy Rebollo

Yendy Rebollo

Yendy Rebollo is an independent, low-income, first-generation, undocumented or rather DACA-mented, woman of color navigating higher education at the University of California Berkeley. She has been an independent student since her senior year of high school, when she ran away from her abusive parents. It is in that same year, Yendy became a published writer with Yendy is currently double majoring in Ethnic Studies and Comparative Literature with a Minor in Education. She strives to attend law school as soon as she is finished with her Bachelor’s degree.

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