What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
I arrived on campus in the fall of 1979, three years after I immigrated from Lima, Peru; my language skills were good but not that great. I didn’t move to campus until the spring of 1980 because I thought I wanted to commute from my mom’s apartment in the Bronx — a mistake that was easily corrected. I had been a straight-A student in high school, but I was ready to experiment and have fun on campus and down in the Village. Music, movies and theater were my passions but as a pre-med student I was overwhelmed by all the requirements. I changed my major in my junior year after failing to pass basic calculus.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
After living at my mom’s I moved to a dorm on 120th Street; I don’t remember the name. I had a room with 2 beds, but I was the only one there. All the other rooms were occupied by transfer and graduate students. I enjoyed my privacy; for the first time, I had my own place.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
Lit Hum was a favorite, but I was too scared to read the assigned novels all the way through because I still didn’t have 100 percent command of the language, and using a dictionary was so time-consuming. One day a classmate who knew how I was struggling took me to Papyrus for CliffsNotes, and that was a godsend. Later in my life I regretted not having read all those books in their entirety. I read the plays and shorter literary works, but not the longer works. Eventually I changed my major to French, and I had to read long novels again, but now in French. And without CliffsNotes.
Did you have a favorite spot-on campus, and what did you like about it?
I remember hanging out at Ferris Booth Hall and sitting outside The Pantry a lot. The pool and the gym on campus were also favorites spots. But my most memorable place was outside Havemeyer, when in the fall of my sophomore year I dared to kiss a guy from my French class, and I liked it. Never looked back!
What, if anything, about your college experience would you do over?
I have been told that the monthly gay dances [at Earl Hall] were a lot of fun, but I never went to one. I preferred hanging out in the East Village with my friends at the Pyramid Club and Danceteria. There is where I found my tribe.
I have always described my first two years at the College as a laboratory — I was experimenting with my studies, my sexuality, my ideology, and with love and friendships.