There were several instances while in graduate school where I had these jarring moments. These moments made my skin crawl and made me want to jump out of my skin. These moments when I was made to feel like the most interesting person in a room, the most beautiful, funniest, and most compelling.
I am going to say that the intention was probably a good one, these people were probably trying to genuinely get to know me and I was probably vastly different than anyone they had ever met. I am also going to say that despite them wanting to make me feel comfortable, it only made me feel unwelcome. It is like welcoming someone into their own home. Their good intentions mostly felt like it was coming from a place of discomfort. And in their discomfort, they tried to make me feel comfortable when I was not uncomfortable before they made me really aware about how comfortable I should feel. These moments made me feel foreign in a country that I call my home, since I have been here for 22 years. And in those moments, during graduate school, I felt like an academic fetish because being brown and highly educated meant that I surpassed anything anyone expected of me and of my people.
I am too brown and too educated. I am by far the first Latina anyone in my cohort had ever come close to being friendly with, and I was by far outside of any societal and stereotypical expectations that are externally placed on Latinxs.
Being an academic fetish means that you are the most interesting person, till you say something against white supremacy. Being an academic fetish means that people will love to be around you, love to say they are friends with you, unless you are too radical for their agenda. Being an academic fetish means everyone wants to say they are your friends, but not act like friends when you expect them to protest that Cinco de Mayo party hosted by the SGA president. Being an academic fetish means just that, you’re somebody to everybody lest they need to stake their comfort.
That’s the thing about being a fetish; it means that you are not human but a means or a source to some feeling that you give to someone else. Latinas are already accustomed to being a fetish, and being exoticized by people. But being a Latina in the academy means that you are both a fetish because of the color of your skin and the amount of degrees you’ve gained.
There were several instances while in graduate school where I had these jarring moments. These moments made my skin crawl and made me want to jump out of my skin. These moments when I was made to feel like the most interesting person in a room, the most beautiful, funniest, and most compelling. I remember being made to feel alien-like. I remember being made to feel inferior by the mere admiration of my otherness. I remember being made to feel other in some odd attempt to be made to feel welcomed.
So next time you hang out with your Latina friend, do not forget where we come from because this is not about all that post-racial society bullshit, but do not approach me with the intention of making me feel comfortable because it presupposes that I do not already feel comfortable. Remember: I belong here as much as you do, if not more.
Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is a chonga Mujerista from Managua, Nicaragua currently living in Miami, FL. She recently graduated with her Masters from Vanderbilt University, and is looking to take some much needed time off to refresh. She is also the founder of Latina Rebels, a blogger for HuffPo Latino Voices, and a columnist/editor at Chica Magazine. Her interests are within biopolitics as it relates to Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh around narratives of naturalization for women of color. Thus her work is around reclaiming and upholding embodied resistance, particularly within chonga and chola subcultures. Que viva la mujer!