When I went back home in the winter break of 2018 after my first year as a transfer student at UCR, I felt defeated. I was separated from my family, had to build new friendships, faced constant employment rejections and had no existing love life. I was not even close to prepared to go back home for the winter break when I had just gone through such a tough start to the school year.
This winter break was just a repeat of last year, but at least I had some slight progress. I got a job on campus, made some friends and got slightly familiar with Riverside. Despite this, I was still having a rough year and wasn’t ready to go back home when the time came.
College life may be tough, but it’s harder leaving the routine. I had to leave my bubble of comfort for family who would interrogate everything about my life. When I left my hometown, I got my independence but when I went back home — I gave it up. However the greater price I paid to go back home was my peace of mind because I experienced a barrage of questions about my academic life, romantic life, work situation and even personal growth.
They were hard to navigate because those aspects of life are difficult to articulate into concise answers. No one likes to boast about their 8 a.m. class stress from every other day. Nor could I easily talk about the romantic hardships I faced when academic, college and work life struck.
It’s not easy dealing with all of the components of an average college student’s life. They all hit at once like cold symptoms because life doesn’t always give enough recovery time in moments when it’s necessary.
The only solution to avoid the reminder of my issues was to avoid questions about them. I just dropped the vaguest of information. My family didn’t own the hardships in my life, so no one had to know every facet of it.
When I went back home I initially shared the few accomplishments I had to own up to at the time. I was doing great academically and I had grown more as a writer, which I prominently overshared whenever I had the chance.
When I encountered the question, “How are you doing in school?” I vaguely responded with, “I’m doing well and I’m closer toward my goal of getting my degree.” It was very true at the time and vague enough to avoid falling into any social anxiety.
Then there was the other annoying question, “What about your love life? Anyone special come into your life?” The best deflection that had benefited me was a piece of advice I received from former KMIR sports reporter Julie Buehler. When I interned at KMIR she told me, “When you’re in college, you don’t need to date. You need to be selfish and value your time alone to thrive.”
This piece of advice also proved crucial to me as a gay Latino man at a time when I haven’t come out. Especially since I’ve faced the question, “Where is your girlfriend?”
The only way I have worn out that question was by adamantly weaving in an LGBT-centric political issue into conversation. Although five years have passed since that question and since I’ve been out, I still stick to that habit since I want my family to care about LGBT rights even when I’m not around.
Talking around an issue is a tactic that allows me to focus on things that relate to the subject but never explicitly state the subject.
It can be summed up in the famous words of Juan Gabriel as, “Lo que se ve no se dice.” What can be seen doesn’t need to be said. If it is apparent that you are not in a relationship, then it isn’t necessary to address being single.
Going back home poses the risk of confronting toxic family members as well. This is an obstacle of finding common ground with that family member.
It’s always best to have a buffer group in your family and know who you can hang out with to avoid the toxic family members. You may also have to prepare reasons as to why you don’t hang out with these family members and shift the guilt to ensure your physical safety and emotional well being. Shift guilt over to the toxic family member when they call you out on avoiding them. Their guilt trip would make them lose power and be looked down upon.
I would do this to my mom who has always been on my case about most aspects of my life. To avoid her probing, I usually gravitate to my grandparents to get peace of mind, but also to avoid unnecessary judgement of my life.
However, the best thing to do to help a toxic family member improve is to ask them tough questions. It’s never going to be easy to ask them in person because current experiences are difficult to articulate and even more so if they are issues that cause a rift with a family member.
It’s better to ask the hard questions when you’re away at school and have the space and time to do so. In that time it’s better to find ways to weave the question in or talk around it because asking over the phone or in text takes away the emotional burden of dealing with intimidating facial expressions or potential consequences.
It may be difficult to confront issues with toxic family at first, but it’s a process that is necessary for personal growth. While it may seem like a tangent in campus life at UCR, it is a part of college life and growing into adulthood to understand the family members who cause trouble. It’s the only way to ever make going back home survivable.