Isirdelia Garcia

Major: English and Five College Multi-Cultural Theater Certificate
Before Amherst, lived in: The Bronx, N.Y.

On the idea of belonging:

This is a school rooted in systemic issues, because of its background, because of who it originally served. When this school was made, it did not think of people like me. I wasn’t even a thought; I wasn’t even an idea. Some of the first black students that came to Amherst College had to go to school with other white students whose families still owned slaves. Why were we the last school to support the anti-apartheid effort? Why did it take black students to chain themselves to Converse Hall to get a black studies department? This is in our history, and we can’t act like it’s not happening now.

I have definitely become one of those jaded older students on campus because of what I’ve seen here and what I’ve experienced. We have a very statistically diverse set of students, but we don’t have systems in place to make those students feel like they belong on campus.

This idea of belonging—I want to know who it benefits. Because there are some spaces where students don’t belong and they don’t need to belong. I should feel like I belong in the athletics department, it’s a campus space. I shouldn’t feel intimidated when I walk into the gym and see this giant white man staring me up and down. But I know for a fact that if I’m having a program about women of color in the MRC, I don’t want those same white men in that space. Because they don’t belong there. I think there’s moments where students of color need to have closed spaces, because that’s our only means in which we survive on this campus. That’s all right. I think that’s OK.

You don’t have to understand what I go through at Amherst, you don’t have to be the most woke person, you don’t have to be Melissa Harris Perry, you don’t have to get it. But common decency should be across the board. You shouldn’t touch my hair at a party. You shouldn’t grope me at a party because of the way that I look. You shouldn’t talk down to me like I’m stupid. You shouldn’t second-guess my grades because of my ethnicity. I shouldn’t be seen as a delinquent or a criminal sometimes because of my background. I can name a story for each of those things.

I definitely have found a family here at Amherst with students of color. Having been part of the MRC for a while, I feel like I have cultivated a community of people who support me, and who love me, and who are genuinely here for my well-being. When students of color are together, there’s a shared experience there, so we just click. It’s like a family.

I’m very proud of being a woman of color, being Latina and being Puerto Rican, especially with the strong Puerto Rican community outside of the Amherst College. Holyoke has the largest percent of Puerto Ricans in a community in the U.S., so I have found solace there. There’s a very strong activist community in Holyoke, so I have mentors and activist friends there who I can consult with.

I’m going to Puerto Rico over the summer to do my thesis paper, “Atlas Was a Puerto Rican.” I’m writing about Puerto Rican embodiment and identity through virtual reality by filming 360 videos of PR and The Bronx, and putting my audio poetry over that, so you have a 360 virtual experience of these places that I call home. It also touches on space, and what is real, and what is not real, and what it means to exist. Because to be Puerto Rican is really complicated, because of all of the histories that are attached to it. It’s also kind of like a film performance art piece too, so I’m in the film.

My own blood family has been amazing too. It’s me, my mom, my sister, my grandparents and my uncle. We live together. Well, we live right next door to each other. They’re my lifeline. I don’t think I would have come this far if it wasn’t for them.

I also feel like I have a theater family at UMass as well. I haven’t felt that at Amherst, so I have gone to UMass to pursue theater, and that has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

On being photographed:

Jonathan Jackson, one of my best friends, has been helping Maria [on the project]. I was joking, asking him, “When are you going to do a photo shoot of me?”He texted me and said, “Come to Seeley Mudd at one o’clock.” I come in, and it’s Maria and Jonathan, and they have this whole thing set up. They just made me sit on a paper for 45 minutes to an hour, posing and stuff. I’m a ham, so I like being photographed. I was doing different poses, different angles, putting my hair up and down. Whatever they wanted me to do, I was doing.

Even though I like being photographed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I like the product. I just think what other people find pretty in me is not necessarily what I find very pretty in me. For example, my resting face always looks like a little bit of a grimace because of my overbite. I was tired that day, so I feel like my lids look really half-lidded. I really don’t feel like I look like my full 100 percent self in that picture. I’m also not a very serious person either. I think often a lot of students of color on this campus have a lot of passion that’s not necessarily captured in the best of lights. We’re always being portrayed as serious. A lot of the pictures that I’ve taken with people capture who I am as a person even if I’m not smiling. I feel like this picture doesn’t show my passion. It’s very passive.