reating something from scratch is never easy. A magazine is no exception to that truth. The Old Gold & Black is already an amazing hub of news, information and culture that informs the student body of Wake Forest and the Winston-Salem community. The creation of The Magnolia and the message behind this magazine is an extension of the Old Gold & Black's motto, to cover the campus like the magnolias. The inaugural edition of the Magnolia highlights four individuals' stories on this campus and shines a light on an identity often over looked on campus — first-generation students. These four individuals may be tethered loosely by this connecting
aspect of their identity, but they all have incredibly fascinating stories to share. That is what this magazine hopes to do and what continue to do as the years pass. The Magnolia is an arts and culture magazine dedicated to furthering the important work done at the Old Gold & Black by showcasing the beauty that is the Wake Forest and Winston-Salem communities. Being a first-generation student means more than the fact that you are the first generation in your family to college. This identity is about bravery, passion and an intellectual strength that is overlooked too frequently. These stories and experiences represent just some of the many students that are breaking this boundary.
All photos (unless otherwise specified) in this edition are courtesy of Katie Fox
The Magnolia • Ernsley Francois
inspiration and the
life at Wake Forest, along with the behind his poetry
batteries, and wind turbine generators. He First and foremost, I would like to thank had welding gear and tools that a mechanyou all for allowing me to share my experience and the things most important to ic could use. There was always something me. I have enjoyed my time at Wake Forto find on the ground to take back with est, and I am glad to be around so many well-rounded people. Some of the things that are close to my heart are character, faith and inBy Ernsley Francois telligence. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate some of the unfortunate things that have happened to me that transformed my The lady in wait 4 5 overall view of life and opportuniA chime, 2 2 ties. I love to hear people’s stories From the sounds of carillons, 5 6 and contemplate how that story She threads. 2 2 has impacted their character, valTimes sets on the chords of history 7 12 ues, and their life. At times, hearing A timeline. 2 3 people’s stories has helped me gain an appreciation for how my story For such an estate, 4 5 has impacted me.
(a streamlined enclosure) of the fan. I responded that I wanted to be an engineer. I was not quite sure as to what it was that engineers did, but the occupation certainly interested me. There’s one story from my childhood in particular that brings much comfort to my heart, especially considering the goals that I am pursuing today. My father had taught himself how to make a wind turbine. After he had brought the first set from the Canadian company that employed him, he would take it apart and replicate it. It was uncommon for households to have 24/7 electricity in Haiti. Most households received electricity at night for a few hours before it was cut off. Electricity was a luxury, An endowment. 2 4 and as such, it would be an excitFor a moment, 3 4 Early Life: ing time when the lights came on. The lady in wait 5 5 The lights coming on meant that Dressed in the old gold and black, 7 7 I was born and raised in Haiti, we could watch movies on our CD She threads. 2 2 and I came to the United States at player, watch a soccer game or occuFor the ministry, 3 5 the age of 10. During the period of py our time with things that would Blacks were sold. 3 3 time that I lived in Haiti, I mostkeep our absolute attention for a few hours. ly lived with my aunts since my She strikes! 2 2 Our TV antenna was not the mother was in the United States. A minor third, 3 4 best, but it did its job when it wasn’t My father was often busy with She treads. 2 2 raining. I didn’t live too far from work, and so taking care of me at my father’s house, my father was that time was not feasible. An overtone emerges - 3 7 just not there during the day. When My parents both graduated from A jingle, 2 3 he was busy, he would pick me up trade school — my mother studied and let me sleepover for the night. fashion and design, while my faMLK ought to be heard. 7 7 In the morning, I could walk back ther studied welding. Thankfully, I The lady in wait, 5 5 to my aunt’s house. It did not take was able to experience some of my She threads; 2 2 me too long to notice that my father formative years with my mother. I From Wake 2 2 could turn on the electricity in the was not completely estranged from A hum from the Old Gold and Black 8 8. house at will. The wind turbine was her — she would visit every couple always spinning during the day, and of years. The lady in wait. 4 5 at night, he would flip a switch and I was very quiet as a kid and ofA “lightning bolt,” 3 4 there was electricity. tentimes could be found tinkering From the sound of grand carillons. 6 8 He showed me where the batteries with gadgets or devices such as raShe threads; 2 2 were. I remember getting a brief exdios, CD players or old cameras. I For the dream, 3 3 loved technology as a kid. Collectplanation of how it worked. I marAn impetus. 2 4 ing old scraps was my occupation, veled at this phenomenon. And so and fixing broken electronics was I thought, ‘why not make my own For a new legacy. 4 5 my mission. This interest may have turbine and also get electricity at The lady in wait, 4 5 come from simple curiosity, but I will, at my aunt’s house?’ My aunt She threads. 2 2 remember from the age of seven had an old fan and it surely resemStill, like dew, we rise. 5 5 my father had asked me what I bled a wind turbine. Nothing a bit wanted to be. of rewiring couldn’t solve, I thought Pro Humanitate 2 6 It was then that I realized that to myself. my father was always tinkering Long story short, it did not work. with something. He was a problem solver. After rewiring it, I situated it at the edge of me to my aunt’s house. I can recall using In our front yard, backyard and storage, the roof of the house. We were not allowed an old blade that my dad had made from there were wind blades on the ground, on the rooftop, but my father didn’t have fiberglass with resin to attach to the nacelle
“LADY IN WAIT”
Ernsley Francois • The Magnolia
The Magnolia • Ernsley Francois
Faith (con’t) to find out. We lived relatively close to the beach, and the more wind the better. But it could not charge my AAA batteries. Although it did not work, I learned how to preserve that experience, and pursue the things that inspire me, no matter how hard it may be. The pace at which life moves in the United States is much different than in Haiti. I would say that having lived in Haiti for that period humbled me and gave me a calm conscience.
and my character go hand in hand. ”
Faith, Art, the United States I have always had an appreciation for the arts. As a kid, I would draw race cars, airplanes and strangely, lots of flowers. I enjoy the simplicity of drawing flowers. The lack of complexity or the abundance of uniformity never took away from its beauty. At least that is what I understood from my aunt’s reactions. She was not the biggest fan of race cars, but she liked flowers. My faith and my character go hand in hand. I am extremely thankful that, although my mother was not always present, I had people who loved me and raised me to be who I am today. Faith is an important part of my family’s standards, both for my immediate family and my relatives. The part of my family that lives in the United States has different struggles than the ones who live in Haiti. Faith is a common ground that we use to connect with each other. My mother worked hard to get my father and me to the United States. I will forever be grateful to her for her sacrifices. As a first-generation student, my mother gave up on her dreams to see me go to college. My mother holds a person’s character in high esteem and has prompted
me to be aware of my actions, words and surroundings. Sundays are important to my household. The clothes have to be well-fitted, the colors have to match and the shoes have to be classic. After a while, I got used to my mother’s standards for Sunday church. Those standards unexpectedly carried on to how I dress for school and to different types of events that require a specific attire. I wouldn’t say fashion is an expressive outlet of mine, but it does hold value. How I present myself to acquaintances, to professional, and to friends matters. I started writing poetry at the start of the pandemic. It was a tough and trying time for many people around the world. A lot of us were picking up old hobbies and trying to get used to new habits. Writing poetry became an outlet to express my inner thoughts rather than hearing them on repeat. My poetry focuses on the human experience. Life’s many nuances pose questions that will never be answered, and so I ponder. The goal is not to come up with an answer, but to be satisfied with what life is and what life is not. I wish to have that philosophy in my writing. These are the things that encompass who I am and a little bit about them. Again, thank you for the opportunity.
“My poetry focuses on the human experience. Life’s many nuances pose questions that will never be answered, and so I ponder. ”
Ernsley Francois • The Magnolia
“THE MASK” A poem by Alexchandra Labdy
You only see what’s on the surface A vibrant human being, Riding the waves, Meant to eliminate, And incapacitate her purpose. Inside the walls of a place designed to make me great, Yet that may not be the agenda on most of these professors’ plates. Grind hard, study hard is what they say, But they forgot to mention the other political and personal factors at play. What makes school so important they say? To me college is just a scam running up its bank The expectation in being leveled with one another’s intellect is nowhere near true. Putting in triple the hours just to stay uproot. The aloofness of classmates is what rendered me shook Guess not everybody out here is as “educated” as they prove. Learned to adapt and blend in, With me as the main character, With everyone else as background noise You’d think your own would respect and connect with you But its just a game out here for most of these fools I learned that college is just the baby version of life I’m definitely learning now how to run game just in spite. I’m in a place where they ignore yet secretly adore me You see You can tell I’ve been touched, by the sun from my complexion This melanated skin, is no different from another one’s reflection We are the same, you and me But as Gwendolyn Brooks once said “Don’t go down the plank if you see there’s no extension (1)”. They’ve poisoned our seeds and visions, Resorting to gaslighting our intuitions Instilling in our youth the imagery of a white man’s land “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness (2)”, who’s to say that we’re appreciative of it. No. We’re not. We’ve been taught to accept, conform, and change with what’s culturally acceptable Or in other words Taking ghetto black creativity and calling it CULTURAL APPROPRIATION. Honestly, if we’re talking about appropriation This whole nation is Guilty by Association.
The Magnolia • Alexchandra Labady
The word change, is foreign to me It leads to nothing The color of my skin reigns like a bullet to my oppressors My very presence intimidates them These imaginary strings attached to my very body To those ancestors of this Native land as well Reaps BLOOD. As the Birth of this nation Reeks of it. Bloody. “Stealing my breath of light, I will confess, I love this cultured hell that tests my youth (2)” They’ll be on their knees soon, Kneeling just as we are We’re just casual people walking, Yet we’re seen as a threat, a weapon A menace to society. See, the grass is said to be greener on the other side But we all know that’s bull It only pertains to a select few It’s just a sugar-coated lie The future is unpredictable The war of the races OH UM excuse me I meant the war of the “racists” with a T Has been temporarily paused Outmatched by the new generation. The door has been closed, yet left slightly ajar Its funny cause We were once castaways, Now everybody is tryna catch the wave.
Poetry By Heart | Boy Breaking Glass. https:// www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/boy-breaking-glass/. Accessed 13 Dec. 2020. Foundation, Poetry. “America by Claude McKay.” Poetry Foundation, 12 Dec. 2020, https:// www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44691/ america-56d223e1ac025.
Alexchandra Labady • The Magnolia
The Magnolia • Alexchandra Labady
Being a college student and juggling the constant expectations of life thrown at her — Alexchandra Labady continues to perservere. Here, Labady reflects on how she has gotten this far and what motivates her.
It’s easier to smile than it is to frown. This is a common phrase that I had heard growing up and specifically throughout middle school. Most of life does not always involve experiencing the best or happiest situations, but learning to see the good in each experience and all that comes from those situations is what makes everything worthwhile. Navigating my way through this world, I had to learn a lot about myself before I could focus on learning in school. I had to navigate the feeling of being inadequate simply because of the conditions of my birth, my social status, my race, etc. Every act of opposition that ever rose up against me just propelled me to push through the negativity with more force and helped me cope with the pressure of success. The discipline I learned to get here taught me how to maneuver my way into open windows of new opportunities. And by here, I mean everything that I have been able to accomplish throughout my life, including graduating high school and making my way into college. Even the failures seem to count as a success because they always leave me with a lesson learned. I am just a regular girl trying to ac-
Alexchandra is a junior on the pre-med track for a degree in sociology. While not studying for rigorous STEM courses she enjoys modeling and expressing her identity through fashion.
complish better things for my future, breaking the generational cycle and creating new footprints for my family to follow. I have always invested my time into finding what truly brings me peace and happiness. Whether it stems from listening to — or writing — my own music, reading, or just participating in activities that allow me to give back to the community, these hobbies and activities are truly what characterizes me.
“I AM STILL IN THE PROCESS OF BECOMING” I remember my first time listening to R&B. Hip Hop music was not something I grew up listening to, and yet — for some reason — I quickly found myself fond of it. Generally — coming from a Haitian household — I have only ever listened to Konpa (our version of hip-hop music) and other Haitian classics. I would say my earliest American Hip Hop memory was
when I rode on the bus at the start of elementary school. I would ride the bus to school and then my parents or cousins would come and pick me up when the school day ended. But, as I was riding the school bus, the radio station 95.3 would be on, and I was able to listen to many distinguished hip-hop classics for the first time. As a result, I became very artsy and lyrical due to the new influences of the world around me. I make the most of what I can in my surroundings, and I make my environment my own space, comfortable to my liking. Writing is my way of doing that — a way of releasing stress. I’ve been able to reflect progressively on myself simply by writing my own journals and other written pieces. I may not say a lot vocally, but my written words speak for me in an authentic way. Truly, these written pieces are what helped me stay at peace in college and in life. Being able to self-assess and just calm myself down has created a better version of me, a version that has enabled me to identify what I’m good at, and also how to love myself and be myself. The book hasn’t been fully written yet on what’s to come. I am still in the process of becoming.
Alexchandra Labady • The Magnolia
remember at the age of four-years-old — a literal child — I was sitting in my grandma’s room. She was watching Mario Batali on Food Network, and I remember thinking, “this is fantastic.” I was eating it up like the little consumer that I was. She would just watch his shows and then make something from what she watched. Those memories are kind of the first memories I had connecting me to food — just sharing those little television moments with my grandma. I would follow her into the kitchen and watch her do what she does best, which was making food for the people that she loves. Did you start cooking after that? Or did you feel that there were periods of your life where you were disconnected from it? I wasn’t able to cook as a child, but my mom let me cook and experiment a lot — under her supervision, of course. Being able to have that experimentation at that young age helped me become really independent when it came to something as simple as feeding myself. When it came to my grandmother and grandfather cooking at the house, it would be around holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. They would make tons of food for the family, and I would sit around and watch them or help out whenever I could. However, I didn’t really cook more myself until high school. Even then, my experimentation would be a lot of easy-going meals, stuff like mixing ketchup, eggs, and hashbrowns together because it was great and hitting in all of the right places. But also, I was able to explore meats, fish and also make dough for bread and batter for cakes. It all started with store-bought boxes and pre-made ingredients, and from that, I was able to go from a recipe that was already scripted to adding my own twist and ingredients to it. Now — where I am at in college — I know what kind of seasonings to simply throw together to make a dish.
40s or 50s — making her own food from scratch. But really, both of them came from families that made food with a whole lot of love. They’d start from bare nothings and turn it into something that tasted so amazing and was made so well. They also made meals from recipes that were passed down through generations, sometimes written down, but mainly orally — through stories that they would tell. My mother does not cook, and neither does my dad. It has pretty much been me, and it’s really a big part of my cultural identity because I am able to go through so many different sides of my family and to connect with them through a specific recipe — and at a specific time period as well. I really feel like the love and the memories shared with them through food are a core part of my identity. Do you have any other forms of self-expression? What are other forms of your identity? I mean, yeah. I have a bunch of tattoos, I dye my hair, I have piercings, I like to buy clothes, I like to paint. I literally have a blabber-and-blunt mouth, also, that I use to express myself. I am very, just, anti-censoring myself because I feel that you do not really get anything good out of censoring yourself.
How does cooking translate into who you are — or your identity? I come from a mixed background. My grandfather grew up deep in South Florida as a Black Baptist man, and my grandmother is from the outskirts of Paris. She lived through the Holocaust, and she had a very famished lifestyle when she was in hiding and afterward. She really had to live off the land, especially around the
The Magnolia • An Interview with Cat Walwer
Those are mainly my forms of self-expression — mainly through voice and voicing my opinion or putting those opinions through fashion or body art. My mom and my grandmother are some of the bluntest people you would ever meet — in both a positive and negative way. They are some of the strongest women that I know, and they have always supported me to go the extra mile and to be ambitious and that if anyone was to get in my way to stomp on them and move on. Censoring yourself and not living as who you are just causes drastic issues down the line. You experience that when you are going through puberty as you are going through different experimentations of your identity because you may not entirely know what your identity is yet. But, if you just live uncomfortably, then that is going to continue to eat away at yourself and eat away at opportunities to invest yourself. That’s what my family has told me growing up — you need to invest in yourself and you need to be comfortable and confident with yourself. I’ve had to learn that myself over the years, It’s harder to acquire that trait and be proud of it, especially when you do that and people say you are just being a cocky, c*nty, little b*tch basically. I am just expressing that I am proud of what I am doing and I am proud of the places that I am going and even if I make mistakes along the way, that kind of just reinforces the idea that I am human — but that I shouldn’t hate myself for that either. Can you talk a little bit about your aca-
demic journey and goals and how this part of your identity and self-expression has played a role in that, if at all? Like so many other students, I came to Wake Forest on the pre-medicine track. It was very much like, “oh if you were doing well in school, continue to do well in college and go to medical school and do your residency and become a doctor and make your parents proud.” I wanted to make money and make my parents proud. I remember my freshman biology professor because I was struggling in that class. I did not take AP Biology in high school, but that professor specifically told us that you are going to struggle unless you took AP Biology in high school. I thought to myself “well shit, this isn’t fun anymore”. It was like the first time I just could not understand the content — I attended tutoring sessions, and I worked on group projects. I was just like, you know, fuck this, and that’s when I decided I did not want to be pre-med anymore. I started drifting and taking courses that I thought I would enjoy. Some of them I did, and some others, I didn’t. But I really started to enjoy the environmental sciences more, and it wasn’t even a major when I was a sophomore here at Wake Forest. So, I was still taking biology classes, but they were more tailored towards environmental studies. That was really hard to navigate because I was going through my own identity crisis. I enjoyed these subjects but, what the fuck was I going to do with them and how was I going to turn them into a career.
An Interview with Cat Walwer • The Magnolia
Cat Walwer is a senior graduating with a degree in environmental science. In this interview, Walwer reflects on her experience at Wake Forest along with fundamental aspects of her identity.
Answer Continued. I don’t necessarily want to spend the next eight to ten years of my life doing academic stuff just to succeed in that field. I did not know anyone in those classes because I was a sophomore and the people in the classes were seniors. It was kind of a battle — I could not express myself because I did not know the content in the classes, but also I was struggling identity-wise. My identity for all of my life was being a successful student, but at that moment, that was no longer true — especially in the eyes of my parents. That really caused a lot of trouble my sophomore year, and then, the pandemic hit, and I was just like, well shit.
Staying home was not fun at all. I’m an only child, and all of my friends were spread across the country. I had to do Zoom classes and navigate a major that wasn’t out yet and I also had a URECA grant that summer. So I had to navigate URECA, the major, and also figure out what I was going to do after college. Luckily, everything kind of fell into place but I think that really put a jam not only into my mental health but also the expression of myself in terms of fashion or cooking. I lost touch with that self-expression a lot. Could you talk a little bit about getting out of this crisis? Where did you turn to for support?
The Magnolia • An Interview with Cat Walwer
I would say that it was things that I was doing. I sort of just busied myself with new things, new classes. I surrounded myself with things to do, which helped improve it. There wasn’t anything to really do when the pandemic first started, and I was a hot mess during that time. But, during the summer, I had URECA, which gave me a ton to do. I was pretty much working 40-70 hours a week working on my own project and research with my mentor — which provided a lot of opportunities for research after URECA. I was able to register for new classes, and the classes I took that fall semester were some of the best classes I had taken during college.
Answer Continued. And having all of my friends back was also a benefit — even though we had to follow COVID-19 regulations, I was just grateful to be in an environment where my friends were and I was able to socialize. The biggest thing that helped me was moving to Deacon Place and having that private space. It was an opportunity to express myself more freely without having to worry about other responsibilities of college life. I could finally step outside of the Wake Forest bubble. I was able to cook a lot more, especially with the people I lived with. We had dinner parties and created new recipes together. For example, my friend Reggie. He loves mixed drinks and craft cocktails, and I would pair a recipe with that. That truly helped to re-spark the ability to get out of my identity rut. I also started enjoying classes a lot more and that helped to re-establish my love for learning and I was very happy to be in that field. I had a bit more of a “fuck it” mentality — which helped a lot.
I have been able to explore and express my sexuality openly and feel safe about it, which I feel I am very lucky to experience. But, there are times when I have seen antisemitism, homophobia and more on campus. I’ve seen people not being truly aware of what Wake Forest’s population is. Yeah, it is a Predominantly White Institution with a high percentage of rich people, but there are so many individual stories that kind of get washed away because of the reputation that the Wake Forest bubble exudes. Also, I feel like a majority of people on campus don’t recognize the Winston-Salem community outside of Wake Forest and also Wake Forest’s impact on that community. I am also lucky for the Magnolia Scholar community and the first-generation community. I also have worked in the Scholars’ Office for the past three years and learning about the other scholars and first-generation students was great.
Speaking on the Wake forest bubble, can you talk about your sense of belonging on campus and with the community?
It is … so hard … being a first-generation student. Especially when I first got to Wake Forest, it was a fucking culture shock. I toured here, and it was very different when I got here to experience it myself. I mean, there is nobody to help you with your FAFSA before you get to Wake Forest, and when you get there it’s still hard to navigate figuring out your financial aid without having to reach out to three or four people. If you don’t come from a specific school, being a first-generation student, you will probably find yourself behind at Wake Forest. That was the biggest shocker because I did really well in my high school and in my performance within the county. But getting to Wake Forest, it was like, “Oh shit, I’m behind because I didn’t take college prep classes or I didn’t take the right set of AP classes.” I did not have tutoring on the side growing up, and I did not have anything to help me prepare for college growing up besides going to the dollar store to get items I needed for my freshman dorm. Some of the teachers in my high school helped out a lot and provided support, but I never really understood college until I got here. I did not know what Greek life was before getting here. I feel like a lot of people kind of just write off first-generation students as being the special diversity number that
I think I kinda lucked out in terms of a sense of belonging because I found my community in the fall of my freshman year. We would hang out in the lounge of South every single day. People cried, people hooked up, people loved each other and people hated each other. People have come and gone, but I have had the same unit since then. That’s been really special to me, to feel that I belong. There are a lot of other factors that make me special and kind of unique. I’m not in Greek life, I’m a plus-size girl, I’m from North Carolina, I’m on a full ride for financial aid and I can’t afford to go to Cabo for spring break. There are also some of the weirdest internal factors that I have struggled with throughout my life. I am white-passing — many people don’t know that I come from a mixed background, but when I’m with other fully white people at Wake Forest, I feel like a sort of mutt — like I can’t relate with them or that I don’t belong. It’s like, yes, they see me as white, but how would they view me if they find out I was mixed? That has been weird at times to navigate, especially with certain populations.
On being first-generation, is there anything you want to say or speak to about that?
Wake Forest is trying to hit with a quota, but it’s truly a perilous journey to try to figure out the college process when you don’t really have support to figure it out, especially at a top school with a top-school mindset. It’s hard when you feel like you’re trying to navigate your identity while feeling like everything is a competition. It could’ve been something as simple as my parents not knowing what my dorm would look like or knowing how to navigate what my meal plan is. It’s truly exhausting — especially when you’re a freshman or sophomore and you’re really figuring out classes, dorm life and just the ability to survive. Luckily, my parents taught me bills, laundry and how to cook. But truly, there are some things that first-generation students really just don’t have fundamental support on. It builds a lot of resilience and character because you are forced to be independent and you are forced to be a trailblazer for the first-generation community in your family. I didn’t really have the mentorship but I was able to pass that on to the others with my help with the coming classes of first-gen students and scholars. Last comments or advice? Just say “fuck it” and move on. You are going to hit so many walls in college — I am hitting walls now in the post-graduate process. My senior year, I got hit with COVID-19 and was broken up with in the same week, and I was just like “fuck it, I am going to reevaluate my life.” And now, I have an amazing job and the opportunity to move to a brand new place. If you think you are stuck in a pit, that’s perfectly fine — be stuck in that pit and be as self-destructive as you want to, but eventually you just kind of have to give yourself that grace and say, “oh that was fucked up,” or “I fucked up,” or “everything around us is fucked up.” Live life to the fullest and take the time for yourself. Take the time to do new things, take a course that you would enjoy and take a course that looks interesting but ends up being the worst thing in the world. Go kiss that person you want to kiss, go dumpster diving for whatever. You only have four years of college, and even if some of it got erased by the pandemic, just do whatever you want to. I think people need the ability to be free more and not fear consequences as much. And if there are consequences — people need to know how to navigate that and be happy.
An Interview with Cat Walwer • The Magnolia
Photos courtesy of Aran Silva Arango
The Magnolia • Aran Silva Arango
Photographer, student, creative. Aran Silva Arango writes on his experience thus far at Wake Forest and reflects on the cultural shock of the community and environment. I think the biggest factor that dictated my decision to come to Wake Forest was the money. I mean, I wasn’t entirely stupid in high school, but getting into Wake Forest was something that I did not expect. I struggled a lot with standardized tests — or tests in general, and these were a core component of your academic standing in high school. Because of that, it was a surprise when I received the acceptance. I got into most of the schools that I was interested in. I really wanted to go to the University of California Santa Barbara or the University of California San Diego, but the money just wasn’t there. I did not want my parents to take out loans where it would become a financial burden for them to send me to college. It was my goal to get a degree, and I could not justify my parents paying for everything for me. Although they were closer and I had a lot of friends attending these universities it wasn’t right for me. Wake Forest was further away, but they offered a lot of scholarships. So, I came here. I looked at some photos online, looked at the sports and said “fuck it, I’ll go here.” I had no idea what the culture on campus was, what to expect academically or even where to get around. I didn’t get a chance to visit the campus, my only expectations of campus were beautiful brick buildings, rigorous academics and Division I sports. I got lost on my first day here trying to find the Pit. It was a very fun experience, as I inadvertently explored most of the campus on my own. I found where other buildings were and that the Pit was literally a straight walk from my dorm in Johnson. During my first semester here, I ba-
sically stayed in my room a lot. I felt isolated, and I only really talked to four people in my hall. Coming from such a social environment to one that wasn’t very social was a stark contrast. It was different. Reaching out to other students or even just people in my hall felt awkward. I didn’t want to be the person to reach out to others through a Zoom class, so I became comfortable with being in my room, playing video games with my friends from home and occasionally grabbing food with the people in my hall. The isolation began to set in again, and I started to feel like the more that I involved myself, the more I found myself being different. This really struck me, in most places I was only seen at face value: a short, brown Mexican kid. I never really thought about it until I was actually interacting with others. I was so used to being able to transition between Spanish and English when talking with friends, and upon getting here, I wasn’t. I didn’t realize how important that was to me until I got here. No more using “foo,” “ese guey,” “no seas pendejo,” and a few other phrases that are better left unquoted. Until I found OLAS and other Latino students, I felt like no one could really relate to what it was like being a first-generation student on this campus, especially a Latino first-generation student. Even in the Spanish class that I took my first semester here, I found how much I had to change the way I wrote and spoke in Spanish in order to pass that class. The Spanish that I learned in Mexico and that I grew up speaking felt invalid. I felt an urge to hide my identity for my first year here, which looking back was stupid. I saw this quote on some dumb “foo community” Instagram post where it said, “we’re supposed to be brown and proud, but we’re just brown”. This struck me because it sort of felt like that’s what I was experiencing. I was just brown, I didn’t fully accept this part of me. Now, as I move on in my college career, I have grown a lot. I’ve come to accept every part of my identity. I don’t care if I get looks when I start speaking Spanish in the library with a friend or if I have to call family on my way to class. I am who I am. Yeah, I was born in Mexico, no I’m not a
drug dealer or rapist or illegal, but I can guarantee I’m going to take your job. I’ve become unapologetic about the culture I have and unapologetic about the person I’ve become. My creativity has always been an aspect of my identity and a means of coping, and photography has served as that outlet for me. However, in the same vein that I felt like I was struggling in the social environment and community at Wake Forest, I also felt that my creative outlet was different. At Wake Forest, I found myself in a creative slump. I spent most of my days inside — and it was a struggle to be creative being located in an environment different from what I was used to. It was not a place where I was a 10-minute walk from the beach, like in Oceanside. I would occasionally go to downtown Winston-Salem to explore on my own and take photos, but it was not the same. I found that my photography shifted into more of an urban lens, moving away from fashion or even portrait-based lenses.
Aran Silva Arango • The Magnolia
t was really strange because I used to always be able to text someone to take photos and they would be down. Here, however, it felt weird and uncomfortable to ask someone to model for me. Perhaps this feeling stemmed from just not being comfortable in this new environment or feeling isolated. I didn’t even feel like taking photos here. Every time I took photos back home, it felt natural and it was always full of memories with friends. I can remember every time I took photos of someone and the story that came with it. Maybe not that specific photo necessarily, but the memory of the day. Maybe it was getting In-n-Out and having a friend be a degenerate and hit on the girl working the register or watching the sunset on the Encinitas cliffs, but there was always something there. Here, there was nothing, I knew very few people who could share that bond or even would feel comfortable reaching out to model for photos. Although I was occasionally asked to take headshots, it was never anything creative like it used to be. Wake Forest really drained me creatively. It used to be that I was incredibly invested in my photography, and I can barely make time for it now. Whenever I would go back home, this feeling completely shifted — I was able to take more photos. I felt like being back home just gave me the creative energy to rejuvenate my relationship with photography. Maybe it was the location but it felt right. I was no longer always busy doing engineering homework or stuck on campus. I could take my dad’s old Honda Civic wherever I wanted. Back home, the renewed ability to move around physically and creatively was freeing I didn’t want to be stuck on campus for my second year here. I realized how important it was for me to have a reliable form of transportation here. I hated asking people for rides to Target or the mall. When I went back home over the summer, I took two jobs to make money with the goal of buying myself a decent car. That summer was very exhausting, but it was worth it. I was able to buy myself a small truck and I used it to get around wherever and whenever I wanted. When it was time to go back to Wake Forest, my brother sacrificed his car for me to have one on campus. He would take the truck for the next year, but before that, we took one last quick drive: two thousand miles or so, from coast to coast. This trip was full of me pulling over to strange gas stations and while
The Magnolia • Aran Silva Arango
stopped, taking countless photos and grabbing postcards from every state we crossed. I am very thankful for this trip overall because it inspired me to take more unconventional photos throughout these past semesters. After this trip, I started to carry around a 35mm camera everywhere and would have one in my car ready, for whenever I feel inspired or feel the urge to take some photos. Although none of them are post-worthy, it was fun. It makes me want to do more. Now, I have so many shots framed in my head of places in Winston-Salem, and once I get the chance, I’ll definitely have something post-worthy. Now that I have a medium format camera, I am more selective with my photos (because film is crazy expensive now, I used to pay $9.98 for a roll of Portra 400 and now, it’s almost $15). I never really thought money would limit my college experiences. However, more recently I’ve seen that a difference in income has really affected what I can and cannot do on this campus. I’ve paid for everything I own, and everything I have up to this point. I rely only on myself in everything and in whatever endeavors I choose to take. It was a cultural shock to see how willing people take or receive money from their parents. Maybe I am a little jealous because I never really had this experience, but it was an isolating feeling. The longer I’m on this campus, the more I feel like I have to hide the fact that I could not do this. It’s very hard when this campus feels like it’s full of opportunities, but only for those that have the money to fulfill those opportunities. If there is one thing that my parents have instilled in me since a young age, it’s independence. I have been independent since a very young age and it’s always a struggle to maintain this notion — especially in a community where the playing field isn’t always level. I know I go to a Predominantly White Institution where sometimes I’m the only person of color in a class and where I feel like I’m the only one who has to figure it out on my own so my professors don’t perceive me as an idiot.
It has been a struggle managing this independence and also coming to terms with the fact that you can’t do everything on your own. I’ve somewhat been able to overcome this feeling but I can’t help but feel like I am still helpless in regard to some aspects of this. It sometimes feels like I am the only one behind and everyone is able to easily navigate through college. It’s very difficult to process these feelings while also trying to experience college. My entire time here, I think I’ve been late to only two classes. And if I miss class, it’s because I’m doing work for another. Missing class to me feels like a crime because I know if I am not there I might be fucked. I’ve slowly learned to swallow my pride and ask for help because it’s okay. I know I won’t understand everything on the first go, but I’ll get it eventually. There’s nothing wrong when knowing you need help, but that was a big hump for me to overcome. Especially in those initial times when I asked for help, I was made to feel like an idiot. However, as I take more rigorous and demanding courses, you will probably see me in office hours. I might be quiet in class because quite frankly, I don’t even know where to begin asking questions. There are people that want me to be here, and they want me to succeed. And that requires me to ask for help. In navigating this year, I’ve really begun relying on others and trusting the people I ask for help and going to do what they can to make it happen. Although I value my independence, I’ve learned the importance of seeking help when you need it. My experience at Wake has really impacted me in so many different aspects of my life but I don’t think I would change anything about it. This place has given me so many opportunities and I have taken advantage of so many things that come my way. Even if it may suck sometimes I am forever thankful for being here and having the opportunity to chase my dreams. I will always look fondly over my time here as it has made me the person I am today and I look forward to seeing what else Wake has in store for me.
“Yeah, I was born in Mexico, no I'm not a drug dealer or a rapist or illegal, but I can guarantee I’m going to take your job.”
Aran Silva Arango • The Magnolia
Aran Silva (pictured left) and Cat Walwer (pictured right) are featured in the magazine alongside Ernsley Francois and Alexchandra Labady