By Claudia Rubio Giraldo
Rubio Giraldo received her LLM from VLS in 2020
It’s been almost a year since I rushed out of Vermont when the pandemic started. I thought I would write about my experience there in order to honor it. I’m Dominican by birth and have lived all my life in sunshine. Birds were the unquestionable background of my every morning. Moving to Vermont meant sacrificing the sunshine, and it meant leaving the birds behind. Additionally, it meant facing who I am when I am regarded as a foreigner.
Being an international Latina student in one of the whitest states meant coming to terms with my own identity, whether I liked it or not. Frequently, I felt reduced to my Latinidad, and I struggled to break those shackles each time they were imposed on me. I am proud of being Latina, but it is just one of the elements that compose my whole. In Vermont, I felt that either I had to claim it vehemently or water it down in order to adapt. These restrictions were imposed on myself by myself, but reiterated and exacerbated by others.
However, with the realization that Vermont obligated the harnessing of my Latinidad, also came hours of conversations where I faced who I was when I was separate from it. I discovered people are curious, and not only curious, but good (or fitting perception of good under my own moral compass). I didn’t receive backlash when I commented how a professor continuously, and throughout an entire semester, confused my name with the only other Spanish name in the class. Instead, I received nods and support. I wasn’t pushed away when I cried because a guy said a was using “my Latina sexiness” to provoke, I was hugged. I wasn’t laughed at when I danced, I was joined. I was asked honest questions. I was asked for my input. I was a foreigner, there was no doubt about that. But my opinion felt respected and valued. When I spoke, I felt heard. I had never lived in a community where that felt true with the vast majority of interactions.
I’m not saying it was the perfect experience, I’m saying the community which I grasped on for survival made it more than bearable. I struggled immensely with being away, analyzing the world from what I felt was the privileged refuge of South Royalton. However, I simultaneously felt the deep roots of community. I felt what it feels like to be alone with other people also feeling alone. I learned to share my darkness and also to find my light. I gained so much. I gained endurance because I survived the Vermont winter. I gained love because I forged friendships in Vermont that both made and unmade me. I gained knowledge because I learned, not only from my classes, but also from the people who made up the law school and the town.
It’s true that birds were not the soundtrack of my every morning, but the first time I saw a deer my eyes watered. I learned about trees that stay strong through winter. I learned what it means to have seasons. I lived in an eternal summer, but Vermont showed me the vicissitudes of the weather. I took a course in ecology, and learned to observe ten new different species. I took a course in resilience and sustainability and learned what it means to adapt. I took a course about climate change and taxes and discovered I was actually fascinated by something I used to hate. I found solace in bonds within the international community, but also found them in my classmates, the faculty, the administration and the people I had small, but almost daily interactions with in South Royalton. I thought I would be met not only by frigid weather, but also by frigid people, and I was not. I was received by warmth. In the dead of winter, there is so much life.
I think what I’m trying to say today is: Thank you.