#1 In the Door, a series

#1 In the Door, a series

“Section 8 to Ivy League”

I saw her hands rise, just a touch. The tone in her voice becoming more urgent, less anxious. Sure of herself and her intentions, she spoke passionately against the field she taught in. Her words attacked the elitism and inaccessibility of education, her desire for inclusive research became her. I listened. I agreed. Yet, I couldn’t forget the initials by her name. The number of publications she’s authored. The number of times she’s been cited.

I couldn’t forget where we were. A bougie high end coffee shop in downtown Boston charging $4.75 for a pack of 3 gluten free cookies. Here, we critiqued the “elite.”

In a month I will begin my Masters degree at an Ivy League institution where you can feel the air of prestige even in the restrooms. This anger, this passion, this frustrated quiver in tone… it’s inside of me too. But I wonder, where do I stand in this fight for accessibility? How angry can I be at the “other side” while I plant my foot in the door? Is my desire to fight against the system contradictory to my walking into it?

In this blogging series, I am going to document my year at Columbia. My transition from one school to the next is more than a change of scenery. It’s letting go of a Section 8 voucher for more student loan debt. It’s a disguise of elitism, a false air of comfort… a childhood dream come true. Tackling with the complication of my position, I hope to make this experience tangible and in some strange way find strength in this vulnerability of sharing my journey with you.

I’ll be posting at least every other week.

“fading”

“fading”

I didn’t like the shoes I wore that night. The rubber lining on the strap pinched the skin above my heels. But the heels matched the blouse, so I wore them anyway. My top was sheer enough to be suggestive, but comfortable enough for the train. I took one final look in the mirror to pull my skirt down, rake fly aways in, fix my lipstick. Routinely unsatisfied, I grabbed my keys and left.

We met up at a bar by Kendall station. I walked through seas of  twenty and thirty-somethings to find her. I felt uneasy that night, my skirt kept riding up and the wind felt foreign against my bare back. I kept shifting my weight from one foot to the other, rubbing against the coming blisters. Samantha complimented my shoes. We paid for our drinks and walked a few blocks down University Ave.

This part of the city had breaks in their sidewalks. We got to a door with the number 87 on it. The buzzer was broken. Sam touched her phone and a minute later we heard a voice above us. A man pushed his long hair to one side and leaned against the windowsill. Well look at that, he said to us with a smirk. The man threw down the keys to Samantha. Effortlessly, she caught them and sent him a kiss with her fingers.

The party was tired. Half the people were on their phones and the other half played beer pong. I saw a girl in a t-shirt and jeans, I was jealous. I pulled my skirt a little further down and looked at Samantha. I thought no one really had fun at parties, we were just faking it. Samantha faked it the best. Her body loosened to the beat of badly selected music. She made the party look almost slightly interesting. I left to find some quiet.

This is the youngest and prettiest you’ll ever be, Mami told me while I was growing up. I repeat this to myself in the mirror of the bathroom. The songs turned into soft echoes, silencing sounds of beer-pong grunts. I took off my shoes and bent underneath the sink. An empty toothpaste bottle with chunks of dried up blue paste stuck to the bottom of the shelf. There were prescription bottles and loose q-tips. Two-in-one shampoos and conditioners were stacked next to a box of condoms. I reached over to the band-aids and patched up my ankles. Anyone in there, a woman’s voice yelled behind the door. I left.

Midnight. A tall man in an Old Navy t-shirt and patchy beard put his hand on my bare back. My heart skipped a beat and I took a step away from him towards the wall. Sorry, I said although I wasn’t sure what I apologized for. What’s your name, he asked. He smiled. Who do you know here? I’ve never been good at flirting but I remind myself this is the youngest and prettiest I’ll ever be. I ask him to make me a drink.


His eyes were almost as dark as the circles underneath them. I propped myself on the kitchen counter as he poured equal parts vodka, orange juice, tonic. The chill distracted me from my discomfort. He gave me my drink and put his hand on my knee. I took a few sips and looked passed him. Samantha smiled, sitting on the lap of the man with long hair kissing her ear. I stopped thinking about my feet, I didn’t feel too exposed anymore. Calmness came over me. Tranquility paired nicely with the party.

The night grew darker. I grabbed onto the rail tightly trying to get down the narrow staircase. My ankles trembled in every step. I almost fell, but someone was holding me up by my waist. I said thank you and kept descending. I got to a door numbered 78, twisted the doorknob. A sea of cool air whipped passed us. I made it outside.

I thought about Samantha, where was she? The stars flickered quickly against the darkness of the sky. The stars were really street lamps. They were yellow, where was I? Cars rushed past us, rain pierced through my shoulders. Cold, shaking. My top was sheerer than I thought, my skirt stuck to my thighs. His palm rubbing my neck.

The concrete shimmered. Streets turned into mirrors. Street lamps doubled, the liquor store. Neon lights, bright blue beer poured through the window. Oranges, yellows vibrating together in the puddles on the corners. Gliding on the pavement, I became pigment. Music gone, only sirens. Bright. My breath. My heels crashed against the tides of cracked sidewalks. She looked into him, he looked at her.


I kept walking, for hours. She was tired against the lights of the city. I dreamt while I stumbled. Soft tapping of rain turned the scene into art. She tipped her head into the sky. I let the world do the melting, my colors fading. Water trickled into my eyelashes, she squinted and felt her breath swimming in slow motion. I started to cry. Does he know my name? Do you care.


I looked at the couple. On the other side. The street dividing us. Our mouths wide enough to swallow each other whole. She put his palms on his cheeks, his eyes were closed. She kissed his neck, he grabbed her waist. He said something in her ear. I looked at the street lamp, wondering. Is this one mine? He took out his keys and let us in.

Monday. Samantha asks if I made it home okay. I tell her yes. That night, I told my mother. I don’t feel too young anymore. 

Academia, Love Me Back

Academia, Love Me Back

My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced content that is of high caliber. 

I name these accomplishments because I understand the vitality of credentials in a society where people like me are not set up to succeed. My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth. These stereotypes and generalizations forced on marginalized communities are at times debilitating and painful. As a minority in my classrooms, I continuously hear my peers and professors use language that both covertly and overtly oppresses the communities I belong to. Therefore, I do not always feel safe when I attempt to advocate for my people in these spaces. In the journey to become a successful student, I swallow the “momentary” pain from these interactions and set my emotions aside so I can function productively as a student. 

Today is different. At eight o’clock this morning, I felt both disrespected and invalidated. For years I have spent ample time dissecting the internalized racism that causes me to doubt myself, my abilities, and my aspirations. As a student in an institution extremely populated with high-income white counterparts, I have felt the bitter taste of not belonging. It took until I used my cloud of doubt and my sociological training to realize that my insecurities are rooted in the systems I navigate every day. I am just as capable if not more so than those around me and my accomplishments are earned. 

This morning, my professor handed me back a paper (a literature review) in front of my entire class and exclaimed “this is not your language.” On the top of the page they wrote in blue ink: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.” The period was included. They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language, instead they immediately blamed me in front of peers. On the second page the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote in between the typed lines “This is not your word.” The word “not” was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this? 

In this interaction, my undergraduate career was both challenged and critiqued. It is worth repeating how my professor assumed I could not use the word “hence,” a simple transitory word that connected two relating statements. The professor assumed I could not produce quality research. The professor read a few pages that reflected my comprehension of complex sociological theories and terms and invalidated it all. Their blue pen was the catalyst that opened an ocean of self-doubt that I worked so hard to destroy. In front of my peers, I was criticized by a person who had the academic position I aimed to acquire. I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to “cut and paste.” I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them. 

Instead of working on my English paper that is due tomorrow, I felt it crucial to reflect on the pain that I am sick of swallowing. My work is a reflection of my growth in a society that sees me as the other. For too long I have others assume I am weak, unintelligent, and incapable of my own success. Another element of this invalidation is that as I sit here with teary eyes describing the distress I am too familiar with, the professor has probably forgotten all about it.  My heartache can not be universally understood and until it is, I have to continue to fight. At this moment, there are students who will never understand the desolation that follows an underlined “not.” There are students who will be assumed capable without the need to list their credentials in the beginning of a reflective piece. How many degrees do I need for someone to believe I am an academic?

At this moment, I am in the process of advocating for myself to prove the merit of my content to people who will never understand what it is like to be someone like me. Some of you won’t understand how every word that I use to describe this moment was diligently selected in a way that would properly reflect my intellect. I understand that no matter how hard I try or how well I write, these biases will continue to exist around me. I understand that my need to fight against these social norms is necessary. 

In reality, I am tired and I am exhausted. On one hand, this experience solidifies my desire to keep going and earn a PhD but on the other it is a confirmation of how I always knew others saw me. I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase “this is not your word,” I look down at a blue inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success. The grade on my paper was not a letter, but two words: “needs work.” And it’s true. I am going to graduate in May and enter a grad program that will probably not have many people who look like me. The entire field of academia is broken and erases the narratives of people like me. We all have work to do to fix the lack of diversity and understanding among marginalized communities. We all have work to do. 

Academia needs work.

“Images of My Mother”

“Images of My Mother”

I want to tattoo my body
with the image of my mother
watch my hands master spices
see my calves grow in size
so I too can run marathons
with four babies on my shoulders

When my voice turns into hers
My tongue will grow heavy
with tastes of herbs and te amo‘s
watch my whispers soothe cyclones
remind all daughters to breathe
again and again

When I crawl into her skin
and I taste the church’s wine
I see God underneath my eyelids
feel the lord’s blood join our own
and the darkness would feel warm
for the first time

I want to tattoo my body
with the image of my mother
so when I look in my reflection
I can finally believe
I too have the strength
of a thousand women

Love & Service in Maryland

Love & Service in Maryland

The frizz in my curls, grime under my nails, and the rips between my jeans faded away in the mist of northern Maryland. Last week, I was weightless. Surface burdens were cured with love, service, and a new family.

Eight days ago, twelve strangers gathered in a crowded airport at 5 in the morning. At the time, the only thing we had in common was a gate number and the commitment to use our spring break to bring a little bit of light into a community. What we didn’t know was exactly how much light we would bring into ourselves.

I fell in love with service 10 years ago in the Dominican Republic. When I was a little girl my cousin took me with her to see this elderly woman who lived in the village. She was frail, thin, small and wore a dress with tiny daisies. She sat on a wooden rocking chair in her living room that had pictures of disciples, saints, and a colossal rosary hung by the doorway. The room was small and all the windows were open. A faint tropical breeze eased the heat we endured from the walk through the village.

“Por qué estamos aquí?” I asked, confused on why my cousin took me here.

“Ella se esta muriendo,” she responded. The woman was dying. “We are here to say goodbye.”

We were not the only ones in the living room that sweltering hot afternoon in the Dominican Republic, the room was packed with relatives, friends, a pastor, and the sound of children laughing in the nearby farm. In this impoverished village with limited electricity, unkept dirt roads, and in the face of death, the one in the rocking chair in the stained daisy dress seemed to be the happiest woman alive. She was among those she loved and that was enough.

 It may seem unrelated, but for me the connection from this and my love for service is clear. I have devoted my entire life to love and community. When I wear a daisy dress and sit back in a rocking chair I want my final glimpse of life to be full with people who can smile in the face of sadness. I do service because everyone deserves to have the opportunity to live in happiness and among those they love despite their circumstances.

 In Maryland, we slept in a church’s attic for six nights. With no showers, we drove to the YMCA every day to wash after long days working for Habitat for Humanity. Together we power washed porches, installed dry wall, did trail work, scraped flooring, painted ceilings, poured cement, swept floors, fixed windows, and most importantly found love within ourselves. Our little group of strangers, through sweat, service, and enclosed spaces turned into a second family as our hearts swelled with joy from the satisfaction of the work we were doing.

On the third day of our Maryland service trip I met a woman who has been volunteering with Habitat for seven and a half years. Every Wednesday, she takes a day off from being a nurse to care for the community she lives in. After only speaking with her for a few moments, I felt a sensation unlike any other. I was in the presence of someone who truly understood the power of love and humanity. For six days out of the week, she professionally takes care of other people. She watches people die, babies born, cares for the sick, love for those who need love, and still after all of this volunteers every Wednesday. This woman does not see service as a box to be checked off or something on her to-do list. She unapologetically loves others for a living. If each human on this planet took a day to live like this nurse does, even for a few moments, the world will instantly become a kinder place to live in.

I live through the words of Cornell West: “…social justice is what love looks like in public.” I will never stop doing service because I will never stop loving. What is important about service is to remember that it does not live in the boundaries of a few days, but it must survive in each of us. I do service because for me community service is not only a trip or an extra bullet on a resume, it is a responsibility that comes with being human. The power of community does not end in an airport on the last day of an alternative spring break trip because the love in a community never ends. Community service is more than an Instagram post. It is more than a hashtag. It is a lifestyle with a balance of self love and selflessness. In order to serve we must rise like the mist in Maryland and love like the woman in a daisy printed dress.

A Declaration of Self Love

A Declaration of Self Love

I’m familiar negotiating who I am to please others. Some may call me inauthentic, I call this self-protection. However, I have burned through my shields. Too tired to be exhausted, this continuous disguise has faded. It’s time I accept myself and no longer sacrifice self-love for overall acceptance.

The mask I wear runs deeper than my foundation, and so today I decide to shift my narrative. I am no longer a finished product of what I’ve been through, I am a project continuously craving care, love, and attention. Today, I am proudly high maintenance. I must treat my body with the ultimate fragility. I understand I am the only constant character in my life. I will contribute only to my self preservation. Tonight, in my sweat pants and coiled hair I am nothing less than a Queen.

I deserve to be heard. I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be royalty.

12:46am, February 28th, 2016 the minute I unapologetically decided to love myself