Latino Student Finds Safe Space at UCLA

To the reader: Justin is pseudonym because the subject of the article does not wish to reveal his real name.

Justin has to dress cute for whatever occasion; otherwise, he would need to go shopping. His clothing is a way of expressing himself. However, Justin has to be cautious about how he dresses in particular settings because he wants to protect his gay identity. Justin is only open about his sexual identity when he is here at UCLA, but when he is at home he goes back into the closet.

When Justin is at home, he puts on a different face because he does not feel ready to tell his parents about his sexuality. He grew up in a religious, conservative household with his family having strong feelings towards homosexuality. Justin has a hard time expressing himself to his family, and he only shares his secret with his closest friends from high school. Justin has been able to reveal his sexuality not only to his friends, but also share it with the UCLA community. UCLA is a safe space to him. He says, “I’m openly gay because I’m able to be openly gay. Nobody says anything about me being gay here. UCLA is mostly White and Asian and these racial groups are more open than the Latino community.”

Even though UCLA has made Justin feel more comfortable about his sexuality; he also has experiences that alter his racial identity. Most UCLA students assume that Justin is white, and he has accepted being white. He says, “I’m white because people [at UCLA] think I’m white by the way I talk and look, but I still perceive myself as Mexican.”  He does not bother to correct people on their assumptions, because racial identity does not really matter to him at UCLA. Justin does not know a lot of Latinos at UCLA as much as he does at home. His Latino identity has been a reason he keeps his sexuality a secret. He feels that all Latinos are homophobic so he chooses not to associate with other Latinos on campus. Justin says, “My Latino family has been openly homophobic so I’m wary about other Latinos believing in the same thing.”

It seems as though Justin is living two separate lives. In one world he is gay and in another he is “straight.” Claiming to be Mexican-Nicaraguan at home and among the Latina/o community lets him think about himself in another way. If not, his family and other Latinos would just perceive him as gay. He says, “In the Latino community [family included], I use the hyphenated Mexican-Nicaraguan label to identify myself. As for my sexuality, I am straight—or at least try to be.” At home, he puts sexuality aside and convinces his family that he is heterosexual, but at UCLA he is most comfortable expressing himself and sharing a part of him that he has not been able to do at home.

Although Justin’s family may not approve of his sexuality, he still plans to tell them one day. He says, “I am not going to hide who I am my whole life. I’m just waiting for the right time.”

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