Listener/Bicultural Latinx/Bilingual/First Generation/Pusher
I am bilingual, first generation, low-income, life-long learner, open minded, soft-spoken, heavy-hearted, always willing to listen, a pusher, understanding, and bicultural Latinx. My upbringing as a low income first generation Latina drove me to a career in education as both an educator and an advocate. After several incidents of violence in the neighborhood, my parents decided to leave the comfort of my community and move to the suburbs. As a result, I had to move from the school where my cousins attended to a school where I knew no one. I was one of a handful of people who identified as a person of color. It was due to this transition, where I recognized a vast difference between the schooling I received from a predominately low income, minority elementary school and a more affluent one. In my previous school, I was on grade level and had officially exited from the English as a Second Language classes. At my new school, I soon realized how truly behind I was compared to my more affluent counterparts. In fifth grade, I was reading at a second grade level. My computation skills were that of a third grader and I was years behind.
Both of my parents were strong advocates for me at my new school. At times, they weren’t sure how to advocate for me since they barely spoke English. The majority of my educators were non-Spanish speakers, so I ended up translating for my parents and teachers. Nonetheless, they attempted to advocate for me to receive the best education I could receive. I recall one instance in 5th grade when I was placed in a mainstream classroom but was pulled out for ESL classes. However, I had already graduated from ESL classes and was supposed to be enrolled in a mainstream classroom entirely. My father came into the school building to talk to administration about this mix up but was confronted with fear and disapproval. See the reality was that my family was one of a few Latino families at the predominately White school. My father wasn’t welcomed like other parents were because he was different than the other families. We were a low-income family with limited English skills. So when my father came to the school, he was viewed as an outsider, like he did not belong. That image stuck with me and it continues to stick with me. Despite this incident, my parents continued to be my advocates and set their pride aside on multiple occasions so that my brother and I could receive the education that we deserved.
This reality is not unique to me. It has and continues to occur time and time again. Students from low-income and/or marginalized communities continue to receive a sub-par education which leads me to wonder if we are indeed setting all of our students up for success or just a select few.
Growing up as a first generation Latinx, I continue to doubt my own abilities. Socially, we are brought up to be unconsciously or consciously submissive, non-threatening. Many times that also means that what you want for yourself takes a backseat. As a young girl, I recall conflicting messages from my father and family. I was constantly told to reach for the stars, attend college, and be one of the first to graduate from college. However, I was also reminded by loved ones about how my success and stubbornness would prove challenging when finding a partner and settling down. It is hard to push through those conflicting messages and tap into my potential, into my strengths and flourish as a young professional.
Throughout high school, I always tried to fit in. I tried out for the dance team. I was an honor student. I did choir. I always put to one side my identity as a Latinx. I felt scared to be my true self in school. That trickled into college as well. However, with the support of some amazing friends and mentors I was able to see my identity as a Latinx and my other identity markers as assets. The Latinx culture has a never ending, timeless, exceptional wealth. We have our own languages both that of the colonizer and of our native ancestors. Our architecture depicts a time of mestizaje, European and Native cultures intermingling, in a constant battle with one another. It is challenging to describe what it all entails because as an outsider you may only see the superficial things that make up my culture like the clothing and the holidays, but my people are so much more than that. We are a resistant, kind hearted, and grounded in our community. They are assets I derive my power from.
After graduating from high school, I was admitted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison; a predominately White institution. It was here where I learned the most about myself. College granted me an unexpected opportunity to continue to learn about my strengths and limitations. Alongside my mentors, Andrea Tess Arenas and Carlos Reyes, I learned how to continue to uplift my community, provide a space for them to share their experiences, struggles, and culture. My mentors would constantly remind me of my inner power. They would use quotes from Paulo Freire like “Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…” and Christian Larson like “Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” Additionally, they would bring me to networking events where I had an opportunity to meet professors and community leaders. For the first time, I was expanding my own network of professionals that were uplifting and excited for my future, who saw themselves in me and were willing to support my growth and development. I also began to develop my own leadership style while conducting focus groups and documenting oral stories. It was then when I learned what my community needed from me. I learned that I lead best from behind. Now, I utilize them to steer my work forward, to give me direction and purpose. This is why I continue to work in the non-profit sector.
I find purpose uplifting others to find their true potential. I learned that I find fulfillment as a listener and observer. The stories I heard and the culture of my people continue to be the foundation from which I operate. Power lies within all of us. It took me awhile to recognize that I possessed it, that I have the ability to tap into it at any given time. It wasn’t until I was in college where I began to realize my worth, strengths and individuality.
I wholeheartedly believe that in order to grow as a person I have to put myself in uncomfortable situations. This past year I was confronted with a situation that I did not know how to react to. This incident shook me to my core. During a conference, I was racially profiled walking into a predominately White space. I was one of two Latinx’s and was literally stopped at the door and given numerous reasons as to why I was not allowed to join the space. By this time, the majority of my team members had already walked into the room and found a seat. I was informed that there was no longer space. However, there were numerous tables still vacant when we peeked inside. A friend confronted the women about the situation telling her that we made all the proper accommodations to be in this space. After several minutes of my White friend talking to her, we were allowed into the space. I felt completely uncomfortable in this space and disappointed by the fact that my friends did not recognize that this was racial profiling and more so, how to support someone who was going through it. This situation grounded me in why I believe in diversity, equity and inclusiveness work. My friends needed support recognizing and understanding how to support folks going through diversity breaches. I needed support giving people grace but also keeping the conference leaders and my friends accountable to challenging the status quo. I learned that I have so much more to give and learn as a Latinx, and it is my responsibility to continue to grow.
That being said, being a person of color is super exhausting but never forget for one second that you have power. You have generational, ancestral and cultural power like no one else. Do not be afraid to own it. When I was younger, I found myself constantly giving my power to other people and letting them affirm who I was. I would stress to not be scared to speak up, to speak your truth, to challenge the status quo, and to never forget that you have the backing of your ancestors.
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