OpinionDrowning out the white noise to make our own

Students reflect on learning American-centric ideals in college
Kayla PadillaFebruary 21, 201912252 min

Cowritten by Natasha Sahu; Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Since our time at Trinity, we’ve both encountered countless instances where we didn’t know how to pronounce a word, didn’t know the name of a band or didn’t recognize the latest $90 sandals. Neither of us knows what a Brockhampton is, nor are we trying anymore to keep up with American culture or “common knowledge.” Growing up in non-American environments, learning about pop culture — and worse, anti-culture in America — has been an extremely difficult journey.

We’ve inflated many white egos after telling our Trinity peers we don’t know the song or film they’re referring to. But the truth is, making people of color feel badly about not knowing your indie band doesn’t make you any more interesting. We don’t listen to music in English — so your cool, nonchalant song isn’t the only one we haven’t heard.

We thought knowing all of these things was part of being an American, and after years of attempting to assimilate into a culture that won’t let us in, we’re ready to give up. After all, what do we care about American patriotism anyway? We don’t need to assimilate. And this isn’t a column about how we’re too cool to know mainstream artists. We’re just not American enough to care.

Then there’s the problem with words and pronunciation — we both struggle immensely with pronouncing words deemed as common sense. It wasn’t until we were laughed at in class that we learned how to pronounce certain English words, or even learned that apparently most people in our classes already knew about the concepts we were presenting. We still don’t know which CH sound is in orchard versus in orchid, and it is more of a struggle when you are put on the spot. We learned English by constantly reading as child; however, all those big words that shaped our vocabulary were never said out loud.

Coming from a place where violence and poverty were the norm, we didn’t have the luxury of learning about all these great thinkers and innovators. Not only did we not have access to these ideas and works, but also they were something we had never heard of, which led to issues in our classrooms. Students who are enamored with Plato’s “Republic” have the entitlement and privilege to speak up and say the most mediocre things, but it is accepted because this is what they grew up doing. It always feels that articulating our thoughts in a language we learned second — even third — is challenging; it is even more so in an environment that is predominantly white. The struggles of growing up are multiplied by the challenges offered by peers, colleagues, teachers and professors who pick on you to speak when your mind is still struggling to learn and process the concepts that have been familiar to everyone else in the room.

People at Trinity are also very quick to participate in our fun, cultural events, packaged and wrapped neatly for white entertainment or for Greek organizations to meet requirements. However, never has a single student been interested in our experiences, personally. We’ve had people in cars playing music we don’t know, everyone singing along but us. We’ve been forced to watch movies with an all-white cast, going through privileged experiences that we neither enjoy nor relate to. We talk about our culture, what we miss, what we grew up with, but never has anyone asked us about the music we grew up listening to or the movies we’ve watched. However, they are very quick to tell you when they are craving Mexican/Indian food!

Students at Trinity need to re-evaluate their American-centric ideals, and if you ever catch yourself about to condescendingly say “WHAT! How could you NOT know what _____ is?” maybe take a step back and think about the other person for once, and save both us and yourself the embarrassment.

Kayla Padilla

One comment

  • A foreigner

    March 4, 2019 at 6:24 am

    I am an international student from Latin America, learned English as my third language and could not disagree more with you.
    Coming here to Texas, to Trinity, has been culture shock after culture shock; I often have no idea who an artist is or what the heck “prom” is. When “white people” find out about this of course they act surprised since it’s their culture! But I’m the one being exposed to this new world, and I’ll make an effort to explore it and get to know it! I have never been “attacked” cause I haven’t seen “La La Land” or heard some indie rock song. On the contrary, Trinity students have helped me learn this new culture, and for that I am grateful.
    Of course I listen to more music in Spanish, of course I am more invested in Latino than American culture. But that does not mean I am unable to open my arms to learn about “white culture”.
    In terms of language, yep, I also learned English surrounded by native speakers. I struggled to pick up such a different language from Spanish, and my American friends would constantly correct me whenever I mispronounced. But so what? I did the exact same when THEY learned how to speak Spanish, and their corrections helped me become a better English speaker as a result. It still happens even today, haha, I often mispronounce in my classes and my friends correct me there too. And you know what I do? I take their advice at face value and thank them for it.
    I just want to finish by drawing an interesting parallel. The school I studied in growing up was FULL of American immigrants (or expats as they’re often called). These people were in a foreign country, learning a completely new language and culture. Sound familiar? Many struggled to adapt to their new environment, to learn simple things like how to ask where the bathroom was and who the national soccer champions were. They were often completely dumbfounded when people used local slang or talked about the latest episode of “La Rosa de Guadalupe”. But they prevailed and learned, and in doing so opened their eyes to a new culture and place to call home. Through this, my non-American friends and I also learned plenty about American culture; it was a win-win for everyone. What they didn’t do, was stick to their own cultural bubble and refuse to open up and learn through, yes, often embarrassing trial and error. But THAT’S what you do when faced with a culture different from your own.
    (For the record, people at Trinity ask me about my culture every single day. I’ve been asked about my country’s music, our food, our movies, our sports. Trinity has been incredibly open to hear about my home, and I am 100% certain that other international students will say the same.)


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