Never let anyone tell you “no”. Don’t tell yourself “no”. If you have a goal and a dream, pursue it.
This is a lesson and motto I have held onto for years from my own experiences, but also from the model of my parents. My parents wanted to create a specific life for me and my sister. They came from large families and purposely chose to have only two kids so that they could provide for us and give us more than what they had. Growing up my parents allowed me to pursue any opportunity and/or extra-curricular activity I had an interest in, no matter the means. They always found a way for me and my sister to take advantage of these opportunities and experiences because they understood the value and growth such opportunities and experiences would have for us.
My parents also wanted my sister and I to do better than them, and this meant getting an education. Throughout my childhood I had a fascination with learning and never doubted the idea of one day attending college. However, my parents had no experience with higher education, they barely obtained their G.E.D.’s. This meant that they did not have any knowledge on financial aid, how to apply to colleges, standardized testing, etc. I had to figure it all on my own.
Early on it didn’t bother me that my parents did not know how to navigate the system, but it started to affect me when I went to college and saw my peers getting all of this extra support and resources from their parents. I realized I was coming in at a disadvantage by learning what other people had at the tip of their fingers. The challenging piece were the mental effects of knowing people had this, but I didn’t. I had to think to myself, “Who can I go to?” I began to realize that no one will be able to assist me unless I tap into my resources and work harder.
The lack of resources weren’t the only aspects that bothered me, but the incessant need to define my identity also felt isolating. Ever since I was younger, people always said that I looked unique or exotic. Most of the time, if not the first question, the second or third question people ask me upon meeting me is, “What are you?” Sometimes they would not even know my name but were quick to ask me, “What are you?” When they ask the question, there is already a preconceived idea in their minds as to what my background is.
For instance, a conversation with a girl I attended middle school with still sticks in my mind. She asked me, just like everyone else, “what I was,” but her response is what never left my memory. She responded, “No, you aren’t. You are Filipina.” It baffles me as to why people are so eager to label me and challenge me when they learn I’m Mexican.
For most people the idea of what a “Mexican” person or woman should look like does not align with my actual physical appearance. These challenges eventually became internalized battles for me. Thankfully, I attended a diverse high school in Southern California where everyone was from different backgrounds, so these challenging and sometimes dismissive conversations were not as prevalent as they have become in my adulthood.
It was not until college in which I started getting “the” question, “What are you,” or similar words to that effect. I assumed everyone would have an open mind, especially because it was a higher education setting. I was asked “the” question constantly; in undergrad, when I studied abroad, and in law school. Since there was so much attention around my external identity, it came to a point where I had to figure out my heritage and background because honestly, I did not know what it meant to be a Mexican-American woman, let alone one in supposed, post-racial times.
I am a fourth generation Mexican-American who did not grow up speaking Spanish. My parents would rarely speak Spanish in the household, and if anything would say certain words or phrases in the language but never full sentences or conversations. My grandmother on my mother’s side spoke mostly English while my dad’s parents spoke Spanish. My quinceañera was the only part of my culture that I fully explored as a young woman.
When I went to college, I thought it would be just as diverse as high school just with more people. I was completely wrong. There were some classes where I was the only ethnic-minority. In one particular class, I remember being in a group that consisted of all Caucasians and me. At the time, I did not see it as a problem, but I quickly came to realize that my classmates had some issue with me. They would not talk to me. At first, I didn’t understand why people wouldn’t talk to me. As time went on, I realized it was all because I looked different.
The shock and interactions that occurred at this predominantly Caucasian institution were pivotal moments in me realizing I needed to learn more about myself and my heritage. I decided to double major in Africana Studies and Mexican-American Studies. These two majors gave me the opportunity to not only understand who I was but the level scrutiny, oppression and suppression, challenges and barriers (socio-economic, legal, etc) that these groups have had to persevere.
Not only did I finally start to understand my culture, heritage, and identity, but most importantly I was able to connect and find a sense of affinity with other people. Overall, it made me feel more comfortable with “the” question. At this point in my life I have learned to embrace “the” question and not view it as a moment to be offended, but use it as a moment to educate someone.
I welcome the opportunity to educate people on the concept or idea of race. The beauty of country is that we are so diverse but we all have a common desire to be liberated and have the ability to think what we want, do what we want, and be who want to be. However, people fail to realize that race is a concept that has been rooted in America as a means to divide us as Americans. White hegemony and White supremacy are alive and well and it is important for us to be conscious, aware, and action-oriented in an effort to dismantle that. I recognize that I may not be able to change everyone’s view who I come across that differs with mine. All I can do is provide my opinion to make it known where I stand and choose my battles wisely.
I definitely welcome battles though, which is why I excel as an attorney. I currently work in education law. Being an attorney is rewarding, especially as a school attorney. In this field I have seen the needs of my clients shift based on the socio-economic backgrounds of where their districts are located, especially districts located in Latino/a concentrated areas. In sum, this led me to see additional levels of needs that cannot be fulfilled by the education system.
I am currently developing a few business ventures with a close friend focused on the Latino/a culture. We as Latinas have seen a huge shift in consumerism and marketing by major corporations tailoring their services and products to Latino/as and essentially exposing our culture and taking advantage of it. We want to change that.
Ultimately, I am not sure where my future lies or what is in store for me, but I know that as I continue to grow and continue to strive for the best me everything will fall in to place. Trust the process.
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