The Spectrum: Learning to love Northwestern as a multiethnic woman

Anisa Codamon, Op-Ed Contributor

Being a student at Northwestern felt isolating for a very long time. To start, no one looked like me. I had dark skin, Asian eyes and a culture that was unrelatable to many other people around me. I am half Honduran (Hispanic descent) and half Filipino (Asian descent). My first impressions of other NU students’ cultural awareness were often shaped by questions like, “You look so exotic, what are you?” and “Are you Mexican?” These questions felt representative of NU —  some students  had great exposure to other cultures and ethnicities, but many others clearly did not. My intention is not to paint any students as ignorant — that word creates an image of being set in stone. I also cannot speak to another individual’s experience, nor am I trying to, but I only ask that you respect how I process people and their interactions with me.

During Winter Quarter of my freshman year, I finally began to feel like part of a community when I joined Kaibigan, NU’s Filipinx student organization, for its annual Pinoy Show. I first heard about the show after a friend in my sorority found out that I was half Filipino and asked if I wanted to join a dance for the production. I was ready to decline, just as I had declined many other possible extracurricular opportunities that had arose since starting school, because I consistently felt consumed by pre-med work. But on another note, I also didn’t want to be consumed by a solely Filipina identity. If I participated, Kaibigan would be the only thing I was involved in at the time.

But I did it — partially because I was desperate to form a better connection with my sorority sister in hopes of feeling more integral in our sorority — an environment that felt uncomfortable for a long time for the same reasons NU did. No matter how different I was from these women in the way that I looked or the culture that I grew up in, I wanted nothing more than to find some kind of connection within the community. I feared I would never make good friends who cared about me or my experiences.

I wanted to be anywhere else but NU. I tried to keep reminding myself that I was here to study, become a doctor and shape myself into becoming that “perfect role model” for my three younger siblings. My family couldn’t have been prouder of these “dreams” and my siblings needed hope, which made my horrifying grades and devastating loneliness all the worse to tackle. Despite my inner conflict, I joined Kaibigan. It felt selfish — devoting time to something outside of studying that might allow me to feel happy and included — because my parents were taking out unbelievable loans for me to be in class and focus on academics. But I knew I needed to step away from that toxic mentality and remember what made me unique in the homogeneity of lecture hall constituents, and that was my multiethnicity.

That spring, I engaged in a class that would completely transform my view of NU. I enrolled in  a Latina and Latino Studies course that discussed urban education, focusing on Chicago. I’ve always been careful to listen to others, and hearing the contributions and perspectives of the Latinx students in the class began to create for me a different “Northwestern.” By our fourth class, I was literally in tears — I couldn’t believe that I was discussing challenging experiences and concepts that were relatable to me and my identities with other NU students, a collective that I had largely come to know as callous, competitive and unkind. It was both overwhelming and incredible. I realized there were multiple communities that I identified with on campus, and I would have found them sooner had I allowed myself to try what truly interested me — whether that was taking a class in the Latina and Latino Studies Program (which has still yet to gain full departmental recognition) or practicing cultural dances for a group that now means the world to me.

Unfortunately, I often still entertain the idea that I may never truly belong at NU because of my multiethnic identity, but even just breaking down that struggle as I write this has made an impact on my perspective of our school community as a whole. This has reminded me that there are many spaces on campus to discuss and learn from others, for which I am grateful,  even if they’re not always readily apparent. While it’s been a process, I’m learning to appreciate all of the interactions that I have had here because they’ve exposed me to many other thoughtful and personal perspectives which help mature my own. Promise yourself a lifetime of pursuing diverse experiences and you will not feel so alone.

Anisa Codamon is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.