Senior reflects on finding a “home” in the English major

From entering Cornell pre-med to finding joy in reading Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” Salvador Herrera ‘18 reflected on his academic journey at Cornell in a recent post on Ivy Untold, a website founded by two Cornell students that provides a forum for minority students in the Ivy League to share their personal stories.

Herrera has tailored his English major to explore the “triumphs and struggles of diasporic people” and sees literature as a way of creating change.

“My journey through the English major has been somewhat unorthodox,” Herrera said. “When I first arrived at Cornell I was determined to become a doctor, but I soon realized that the pre-med lifestyle is more brutal than Dante’s seventh circle.”

Herrera then switched to the English major to explore law-related coursework and discovered that the College of Arts & Sciences offered a breadth of options for pursuing his passions.

“In my English classes I not only performed better than I ever had, but I developed an insatiable desire for knowledge,” Herrera said. “I stopped trying to force myself onto one track or another. I decided to take a leap of faith, and I could not be any happier with the decision I made.”

Herrera studies contemporary Latina/o literature “within a trans-American framework and information age flare.” Herrera, also a Mellon Mays Undergraduate fellow, conducted research over the summer on gang theories of power and desire, and literary criticism.

“My aim was to begin to think about how autobiographical works by former gang members can shed light on the inner dynamics of gang networks and the factors that drive their decision-making,” Herrera said. “Quite simply, I want to understand the historical series of events that have led to modern day violence — why it happens, how to use it, how to stop it.”

Herrera, who was born in Chicago to Mexican and Puerto Rican parents, said he hopes that his Aug. 31 essay in IvyUntold, “Finding and building Ivy Home (Lands)” allows other students to learn about his experiences from his perspective, regardless of their own background.

“The essay I wrote for IvyUntold hits home, literally,” Herrera said. “I drew my inspiration from my personal experiences: my childhood and origin, navigating in-between spaces, anxiety driven by current events and trying to understand the world through narrative.

“I think everyone has a story to tell, and the stories we tell ourselves are the most powerful.”

Herrera intends to pursue a PhD in English literature after graduation.

“My goal is to become a professor and inspire future generations of students to be skeptically faithful,” Herrera said. “Academia is a world on its own. While it may be largely inaccessible, it is an important world: ideas circulate in-and-out of it in an endless cycle of power plays. It is as hierarchal as any other institution in our society; the trick is learning how the system works, and then writing instruction manuals for others.”

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.

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		 Salvador Herrera