Driving down Airport Freeway, travelers can see evidence of the American “melting pot” here in Irving. Here, an Indian restaurant is a block away from an African market, which is next to a Brazilian steakhouse. But, upon arriving at the University of Dallas, that ethnic diversity disappears.
According to Forbes, 67 percent of UD’s population identifies as white, while other races, such as Asian or African-American, comprise less than 5 percent each of the student body.
Hispanic/Latino students, however, make up 18.5 percent of the UD student body and is the second most common race after white and nearly one fifth of the population. Students who identify as Hispanic or Latino share some commonalities like language, but all have vastly different experiences of Hispanic culture, from Mexican-American to Puerto Rican.
“I don’t think there’s like a recognized Hispanic culture here,” senior politics major Melissa Hernandez said. “It’s more like people on the sides are making their own.”
As a first-generation American citizen, Hernandez’s parents emigrated from Mexico to the United States, where Hernandez was born. She grew up in a Mexican home surrounded by an American culture. She said that she separated family and social life into two different cultures.
Senior politics major Liz Magallanes, who emigrated from Mexico at a young age, also felt this cultural divide.
“I didn’t really know how to incorporate the two, so I didn’t,” Magallanes said. “I was trying twice as hard to lose the accent, to look a certain way, to make sure that people didn’t compartmentalize me in a way that had a negative connotation … To me, growing up, being more American looked like leaving behind my culture.”
This was difficult for Magallanes, who described her Mexican culture as an inextricable part of her identity.
Senior art major Dario Bucheli, who moved from Mexico to San Antonio at 16, was eager to welcome his new American culture.
“I didn’t feel pressure, I willingly wanted to be assimilated, knowing that I didn’t have to give up where I come from, because that’s part of what makes the United States what it is – people come together and bring all of their cultural heritage and background culture and act as a people,” Bucheli said.
Senior psychology major Evyan Melendez also feels ties to American culture, but as part of his Hispanic identity. A native of Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Melendez feels a great allegiance to Puerto Rican culture and language. However, being Puerto Rican includes being an American citizen, since the island is an American territory.
“We’ve retained aspects of Puerto Rican culture, but definitely capitalism and consumerism transformed that into a very Americanized way of doing things,” Melendez said.
Attending UD as a freshman was Melendez’s first time being fully surrounded by American culture. While his English was good by Puerto Rican standards, he quickly worked to become fully fluent in English.
“[I didn’t try to lose my accent entirely] but at least neutralize it, to a point where I wouldn’t hear it,” Melendez said. “I wanted to strive to have better English, and that just came with education.”
Difficulties aside, these students felt that they have largely been welcomed and have grown to better understand themselves as individuals while at UD.
“I think a lot of that is Dallas as a city is very diverse, and finding friends here that are also first-generation American, and having that in common, being able to speak the language with them, having the same cultural background, being able to share that [is great],” Hernandez said.
Whereas Magallanes felt the need to hide her Mexican culture while growing up, she is now proud of it.
“That marriage of the two is a beautiful thing, for any culture, and I think it is important to uplift bicultural or multicultural people,” Magallanes said.
Both Bucheli and Melendez have gained more global views at UD and in the United States, leading Bucheli to find his individuality unattached to a particular culture or country and Melendez to step outside of the “island mentality” prevalent in Puerto Rico. That being said, all four of these students have also encountered others who lack tact and charity.
“There have been instances in which I have heard comments, racist remarks – they were never really directed at me, they’ve been thrown around,” Bucheli said. “I don’t know if people just don’t realize that I’m not an American or just don’t know that I’m there, but I think that just goes to show that those kinds of things are present everywhere, and the UD Bubble may not be an exception all the time.”
Even without racism or hostility directed at them as individuals, all agreed that a more open dialogue about culture would benefit the UD community.
“When people ask, ‘Oh where are you from?’ I think that’s great,” Magallanes said. “I think that’s something that like helps us understand other people and helps to expand our knowledge of the world in general.”
Melendez agreed and said that he would in no way be offended if someone inquires about his Hispanic ethnicity and encouraged UD students and administration to openly discuss different cultures on campus.
Hernandez agreed, saying that a greater dialogue would reduce instances in which people do not know how to handle cultural differences.
“The closest we get is Salsa TGIT,” Hernandez said. “The stereotypes and the assumptions that come with a lack of knowledge, a lack of awareness of the culture, that makes me think that there should be something like [more dialogue].”