Some recent Latino nerd talk -- shout out to all of my brothers and sisters -- got me thinking about the origins of my nerdom.
How exactly did this happen? How did I become the kind of woman who listens to podcasts about earthworms and economics? Why am I the kind of person whose heart goes aflutter when she hears Elizabethan English? Why have I memorized entire "Simpsons" episodes? I began to read voraciously because I was a misbehaved child who was punished often. My dad's punishments were usually very harsh -- two-to-three weeks long -- during which I was not allowed to go outside or watch TV. The only form of entertainment was reading, drawing, and looking out the window.
I would consume stacks and stacks of books during this time. Since the amount of Latino literature available to kids was (and still is) paltry, I escaped my reality by reading books, such as the entire collection of "The Babysitter's Club" and all of Judy Blume. (I thought of starting my own babysitter's club until I realized what a terrible idea that would be in the barrio.) I was also a weird and moody child. I was the kind of poindexter that would read Stephen King novels during recess. My solitude allowed my imagination to grow fecund.
At the age of 12 I decided that I was a poet. While little girls supposedly fantasized about their wedding day, I fantasized about publishing books and traveling the world. In high school I was very troubled, so I immersed myself in more literature. I thought I was Huckleberry Finn. I thought I was Holden Caulfield. I wore white dresses like Emily Dickinson. (There are pictures to prove this.) I would talk to my teachers about music because no one else I knew liked Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. In my more ascetic phase, I also shaved my head as a rejection of materialism and feminist refusal to be objectified. I would often shock my therapists with my knowledge of existentialist philosophy. Because I had no money and our library was pitiful, I would steal books on a weekly basis. When I was 15, instead of a quinceañera, I chose to attend a summer poetry workshop at a nearby college.
In sum, I was a whole lot of weird and I never cared to hide it.
Now I am an adult nerd, better adjusted, but dweeby nonetheless. I am full of bizarre knowledge (ask me about the history of merkins). I am constantly cramming my brain with any information I can get ahold of because it's as insatiable as that scary plant from "Little Shop of Horrors." Sometimes I still dress funny and probably embarrass my boyfriend. I frequently watch documentaries about topics such as honey bees, food science, and genocide. I also just started recording a podcast with a friend because I thought the podcast scene really needed to be penetrated by more nerds of color.
Please understand that Latino nerds are doubly ostracized. We don't fit in mainstream white culture and our Latino communities often shun us because of our bizarre ways, interests, and beliefs. Many times we're accused of "acting white," whatever the hell that means. We are misunderstood on several levels. So I ask that if your loved ones are Latino Urkels, please nourish them. We know we're weird but we just can't help it.
Follow Erika L. Sánchez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@OhHellsNah