The nature of Latinitas brings volunteers to our doors as old as 70 and as young as high school, but when young people do volunteer we get extra excited. That kind of initiative is unique, especially for a college freshman just getting her bearings in Austin, TX. Lucero Estrella came to Latinitas Austin in the Fall of 2014 looking to continue a thread of social justice advocacy and mentoring she started living in Brownsville, TX where she worked with youth tutoring and instilling cultural pride through a city program. She took to leading a Latinitas club like a mariachi to tight decorative pants and mentored 20 girls at Zavala Elementary last year. This past summer, she was back committed for 4 weeks of leadership and currently she is our facilitator on site at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin teaching families how to use digital technology to record memories, goal set, create a permanent resume and more. Grateful for volunteers like Lucero – we wanted to get to know her a little better and asked her about herself.
Janani Janakiraman is Latinitas favorite kind of volunteer. Though highly qualified on her own as an engineer at IBM, Janani never comes alone – she comes with a task force that includes her oldest daughter Divya and her twin sisters Priya and Kavya and some of their friends from Westwood Highschool’s Spanish Honor Society or the engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin. This Spring, Janani led “Robot Chica” – Latinitas first Lego Mindstorms workshop. We are also grateful to Janani for acquiring some of our first tablets at Latinitas – she truly comes to youth empowerment with a lot of gifts.
Latinitas: What was your experience like teaching Robot Chica?
Janani: I had a lot of fun teaching the kids how to program a Robot. I was amazed to see how even kids as young as second grade picked up programming via Lego Mindstorms very quickly. Programming involves logical thinking, creativity and patience to complete tasks. Its always interesting to see the spark in the kids eyes when they are able to build things on their own.
Latinitas: You get your own daughters involved in volunteering also – why?
Janani: I have three daughters and we volunteer as a family. I work full time and it started out as a way for me to spend more time with my kids and volunteer at the same time. We made fun shared memories while doing STEM based activities. It has now evolved to me depending on them to do most of the training when we host these workshops. My girls enjoy being role models for the other kids, especially girls, to show them that STEM is fun.
Latinitas: What were you like as a girl and how do you think that helped you become an engineer?
Janani: I grew up in India and was fortunate enough to be in a family where we were never held back. My mom was a high school math teacher, my dad an engineer and my hometown was filled with engineers working in the steel industry. So I grew up with great role models. I was always curious about how things worked and math was my favorite subject in school. I gravitated towards engineering without too much thought.
Latinitas: Where is your favorite place to be in the world?
Janani: My favorite place is a museum. Whenever we travel, we look for museums to visit. My favorite museums are ones which are hands on. Did you know that Austin has tons of museums and in September, on free museum day, you can visit all the museums for free?
Eleven years ago, Sara Martinez joined one of the first Latinitas after school programs at Martin Middle School in Austin, TX. Her journey from then to now – becoming a musician, travelling to Japan, studying cosmetology, using that skill to afford college and apply to the University of Texas at Austin and now plans to be an international journalist is more than inspiring and impressive – it’s the dream we had for every chica who walked in Latinitas’ door! Below Sara shares what Latinitas meant to her growing up, but also, more so, what a dynamic and thoughtful person she has always been.
What did you like about cutting hair/studying cosmetology?
SM: Ever since I was a little girl. Something that I cared about was my hair because I felt like it was part of my identity. A different style, color or cut can dramatically change a person’s image and self confidence, and that was something that attracted me to cosmetology. I liked studying cosmetology because I enjoyed watching how a person’s self confidence would go up after getting something done to their hair. Seeing their smile after seeing the finished product was something that kept me going throughout my years at cosmetology school.
What is it that draws you to journalism?
SM: When I was younger, I was very shy and stuttered frequently. I felt like I had no voice so I really liked to express myself through writing and social media which I discovered through Latinitas in middle school. Deep down inside through my years in high school, I felt that I wanted to study in college something that would help improve myself as a person. Because of my love of journalism, I have a physical voice now because I want to be heard. My stuttering and shyness in front of big groups of people has gone away because of my love of expressing my opinion. Majoring in journalism not only gives me the chance to be a voice but to also make sure that other people’s voices are being heard as well.
What’s next for Sara Martinez?
SM: My dream is to become an international music and fashion journalist. I’m expected to graduate with a degree in Journalism and a minor in fashion design next year. I’ve been studying Japanese for about four years now and I got a chance to live there during the summer of 2013; it is an experience that I hold very dear to my heart. I’m hoping to relocate to Japan after graduation so I can become a native speaker and attend a Japanese language school while looking for work. I want to find work in the Japanese television and magazine industry because that is a big market in Japan. During my trip, I discovered that although American pop culture is well known there, our actual culture is confusing to understand at times because it is completely different compared to Japanese culture. I want to become a bridge and a voice that will help Japanese people understand as to why things are the way they are in America. My love of learning and culture is something that has set me apart from a typical Latina and I think its because of my mixed heritage and being a first-generation american in my family. Given the chance to go to one of the top universities in the world and being part of a top ranked program has taught me that if I try really hard and follow my heart, then amazing things are possible. I want to be a person that can be looked up to.
What’s something about you that sets you apart as a “Latinita?”
SM: Latinitas was the reason why I was able to work my way to becoming the person that I am today. Coming from a family that is considered lower class here, made me think that I wouldn’t be able accomplish much in life. But looking back, I feel that I have accomplished so much and I haven’t even graduated college yet. Being a Latinita brought my self-confidence up and has given me the drive to make a difference like Laura, the CEO of Latinitas Magazine. What sets me apart as a “Latinita” is that I am confident and although I know that I make mistakes, that will never bring me down. Being mentored by Laura taught me that many things are possible and that dreams do come true if you are strong enough to pull through all the hard obstacles that come our way. Being a “Latinita” is something important because wherever this life takes me, the lessons and experiences with Latinitas will always be with me and giving me the drive to make a difference.
Latinitas is now recruiting college students who are interested in becoming a part of our Fall Intern team! Latinitas offers exciting editorial, marketing, fundraising, design and event planning internships. Gain career experience, build your resume, gain skills and make a difference. To apply for an internship with Latinitas, submit your resume to email@example.com.