The days when September meant a new semester are long past for me. But like many people, I still flash back to those days whenever the first decayed leaf hits the ground.
When I graduated from college, I was one of about 500 Hispanic students on campus. At that time, the undergrad population of my alma mater was almost 30,000 people (yes, it was a big school). So Latino representation was less than two percent. For the other 98 percent of the students, spotting a Latino undergrad was about as likely as picking up a Phi Beta Kappa supermodel at a Metallica concert.
In my four years of college, I met only two other Hispanic students, and I didn't become close friends with either of them.
One was a Chicano guy who worked with me at a campus laboratory, where our jobs consisted of washing test tubes and wiping down centrifugal-force machines. He didn't talk much, and seemed, in fact, to be actually resistant to speech, like it was against his principles. This was unfortunate because it was a boring job and there wasn't much to do besides scrub, talk, and ponder how many carcinogens you were inhaling.
The other Hispanic was a Puerto Rican woman who, while clearly intelligent, was unparalleled in her capacity to be humorless. She was not just angry most of the time; she exhibited eye-popping rage. Woe to the professor who disagreed with her verbose insights. Every comment in class was provocation for her to start a metaphysical debate that featured vocab-dropping like "fecundity" and "juxtaposition" and "vis-à-vis," all delivered in a mesmerizingly earnest and fierce tone. The last time I saw her, she attempted to draw me into an argument over the true definition of art, as if the two of us would come to a definitive conclusion if we were just intensely serious enough about it.
I can't tell you if these two individuals - a sullen loner and a confrontational intellectual - were representative of the Latino population at my school. Like I said, while I was there, I never met anyone else who was brown besides them and my own reflection in the mirror.
So does this discrepancy still exist? Hispanics are supposed to be taking over the country (I hear it all the time on talk radio, so it must be true). And will ivory towers be the last line of defense for ivory people?
Well, I am pleased to report that the latest stats from my alma mater (covering through 2006) show that Hispanic undergrads now number about 900. That means there are almost twice as many Latinos on my old campus as back in the day (strangely enough, every last one of them is physically attracted to that cute blonde girl in Geology 210, but that will be the subject of another post). We even outnumber blacks on campus, which is really freaky.
The overall student population has stayed the same, so Hispanics have cracked the three-percent barrier... Well, I guess that arbitrary milestone is cause for celebration.
The larger question, of course, is why does a group that makes up 15 percent of America constitute only three percent of the students at a top university? There's something for all of us to ponder. For now, however, let's just acknowledge that incremental progress is still forward motion.
All this statistical good news has made me reconsider the invitation I recently got from my university's Hispanic Alumni Association. They want me to attend a campus reunion. It sounds like an exciting time.
I hear both members of the association will be there.