What it Means to be a Latina

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Written By Jasmin Flores

An American Latina is defined as a woman who grew up with American advantages and identifies with her Hispanic roots. However, this is not the only case. With the changing of times come the altering of “labels” and terms. A Latina can be anyone or anything nowadays. Fifty-years ago when my grandmothers were youths, a Latina’s dreams were expected to be to get married and have children. That’s it. Not of getting a college education or traveling and experiencing different things. This mindset didn’t end fifty-years ago, and this continued on and on until my generation came along and people realized that this design was flawed.

Many Latinas are now realizing that there is more to life than being homemakers and mothers. Sociologists attribute this newfound interest to schools pushing kids that belong to minority groups to go to college. However, I disagree. I think the words of our grandmothers and mothers are what push us to realize our potential. Learning from their hardships, heartache, and life lessons, we become aware that we carry the weight of their dreams on our shoulders. Therefore, we must do what we can to make them proud of us.

We are at the fork in the road that these women were once not given the opportunity to face. They were scuttled along the path of homemaker and mother. Now, we have choices. Do we want the take the road paved with the bricks of education, of success, of a future? Or do we want to take the dusty old road that many women were forced to travel?

Because of women like Dolores Huerta and Sonia Sotomayor, that golden brick road has become easy and accessible for the younger generations to travel on. We embrace “white America,” in a way that was not seen before. In fact, many and most Latinas, including myself, identify with white America more than our Hispanic roots. For example, I do not speak Spanish. I never learned how to speak it fluently. I can understand when my grandma yells at me “cierra la puerta” or “dame la bolsa,” because I’ve lived with her the majority of my life and I know her quirks. However, when I am with my mom or anyone else for that matter, we only speak English. There is a barrier between me and my Hispanic roots.

There are so many misconceptions people have of Mexican and Hispanic culture. Just like the changing of fads, people and ethnic groups change as well. We don’t ride stage coaches anymore, we drive cars. We don’t speak Spanish, but we’re still Mexican. One of my favorite quotes that describes what it’s like to be a modern Latina comes from the movie Selena:“You have to be more Mexican that the Mexicans and you have to be more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!” I don’t think you can get more accurate than that.

We are in a purgatory stage where we don’t belong on one side more than the other. We are directly in the middle. I’ve been too white-washed to be a Mexican and I am too dark to be an American. I like Starbucks but I also like watching 12 Corazones. We tread a fine line, and, if we lean too far to one side, the other will call us a traitor. It really is hard to be a Latina, but it is unlike anything else in the world.

We as women are naturally strong, but to be a Latina woman is to be as strong as Atlas. We are lovers, we love our family, we love the people we meet, and we love ourselves. We are givers, we give our compassion, we give advice, and we give ourselves. We are role models, we inspire the younger generations, we inspire our peers, and we inspire ourselves. We are Latinas, we are Hispanic, we are American, we are women. I’d like to conclude with a mini poem that I wrote.

 

I am a puzzle 

Hecho en Mexico

I am a riddle

Made in America

Poem: Room

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Written by Stephanie Hernandez
It’s just an empty room
A naked window and wooden floors
Beige walls and red doors
The shadows of falling leafs reflect on the window
While the sun rays leak through
With golden light that sways with winter scents
Their smells are lingering content
The wind whispers stories in the walls
Of romantic downfalls
When seasons can’t help but change
Your desires become strange.
For you rather be the scar
Than admit who you are
Now my heart is breaking
For what has been forsaking
Let us breathe through the seas
Of shuttered memories
And watch us fall like the yellow leaf
That covers the concrete of gray disbelief
With the wrong steps, we’ve lost our chances
Missed words and lost romances
That sunk through the wood of our floor
The mistakes that paint our red door
Was I a fool to assume?
That after all we’ve been through;
We’d be more than an empty room

Career Spotlight: Chief School Officer

Danna Diaz
Position & Title:
Chief School Officer, Area One Superintendent
Employer:
El Paso ISD
City & State
El Paso
What are some of your job responsibilities?
I serve elementary and middle schools that feed into four high schools. They are Bowie, Coronado, El Paso and Jefferson/Silva. I work with principals and central office to ensure students are learning in the classroom and that teachers have the tools they need to facilitate instruction.My experience working with students from diverse economic backgrounds and my bilingual skills have provided me with the tools and skills to engage all stakeholders in the educational process. Specifically, as a leader, I respond to the needs of stakeholders by establishing positive relations with the school and community and working with the members of the school district. In addition, I promote effective school communication and build coalitions to support the entire learning community.
What is your educational background? Describe your college experience and how it helped you prepare for your career.
I am the first in my family to attend college. I received my Associates in General Studies from Central Texas College, Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Masters of Science, Mid-Management and Superintendent Certifications from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Administration from The University of Texas at Austin.My personal and educational experiences have helped me understand the resilience and persistence that is needed to succeed in today’s public schools. I know how important it is to receive an education and break the cycle of poverty, addiction and domestic violence. My passion is to make a difference in the lives of students and families.
How did you find your current job?
The position was posted by Proact, a national search firm. I applied for the position. I was screened by Proact personnel and interviewed three times by the Superintendent, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources and a member of the EPISD Board of Managers.
What did you do to prepare for this career?
I started my career as a bilingual teacher, assistant principal, principal and central office administrator. In addition to my professional experiences and education, I am a graduate of Proact Supes Academy, Center for Courage and Renewal, Academy for Leaders, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendent’s (ALAS) Superintendent Leadership Academy and the California Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (CALSA) Mentoring Program. My professional experiences, my education and the four learning programs prepared me for the position I have now.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love working with the principals, teachers, parents and students of Area One. They are smart, intelligent and a group of caring individuals. My days are filed with conversations with them that impact the schools academically and/or operationally.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is when you find out a student is hurt in an accident or in the hospital. I know deep down inside they want to be in school. All I can do is pray!
What advice would you give to help a girl prepare for a job like yours?
My advice would be to love what you are learning. If you want to be a teacher, start there. Keep going to school to prepare you for the next level. Don’t stop learning. Keep going!
What do you do for fun when you are not working?
I love spending time with my family, going to the movies, working out in the gym and participating in yoga practice.

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Breaking the Mold

Written by Stephanie Hernandez

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Latinos grow up with all sorts of beautiful traditions. From the dancing, to the food, to Piñatas, these cultural traditions are known to be lively and unique. However, there are two sides to traditions. Cultures can define the character of an individual, they bring out the history of the people, they unite people, but they can also limit people. When do traditions become more than just displays of cultural pride, and instead become restrictions in the Mexican-American culture? Latinitas sat down with several young Latinas and asked what they thought about their culture. Here is what they had to share:

Daisy Hernandez, 13, says she loves being a Latina because she has the best food and parties. “My favorite moments are always with my family, and my mom makes the best menudo,” says Daisy.  Even though she loves her culture, she also shares how her culture has influenced her to act a certain way. “I always have to be nice when I talk, I can’t say bad words, but my little brothers say it all the time.” She also states that as a Latina you have to be nice to boys and cook and clean, or else you won’t get married,” she says.

Mia Goodman, 11,  shares her favorite traditions in being a Mexican-American. “I love Chile, Mexican colors and parties,” she says. One tradition that she is looking forward to the most is her Quinceañera, and cannot wait to buy her dress. The Quinceañera is something most Latinitas look forward to celebrating, but the cultural expectations Mia faces is something all third or second generation Mexican-Americans can also relate to. “People say that if I’m Mexican I need to know Spanish, but I do not know Spanish,” she says. The language barrier has led to feeling left out. “Sometimes they sing Spanish songs and tell me too put my headphones on, since I don’t know them,” she says.

Mara Rivas, 24, enjoys the restrictions provided by her Mexican culture. “I like having limitations, I think it’s important for a human being to have them; if not you just go around doing whatever you want and that’s never good,” she says. When asked if she was expected to act and be a certain way as a Mexican woman she didn’t hesitate to respond with a resounding yes. “I’m supposed to be classy, polite and respectable because that’s the way my mom raised me to be,” she says. Mara says that, unlike the Mexican culture, American culture does not put their family first.  “Tú no eyes tu, tú eyes la esposa o la hija de alguien,” she says. As a Latina there is no such thing as in betweenness, meaning women go from a Man’s daughter to a Man’s wife and there in no in between. According to Mara, ” everyone knows everyone, so everybody is like gossiping, oh look that’s the girl, don’t hang out with her she’s [not a good influence].  

Marilyn Medina, 22, says she is proud of her culture but she also dismisses certain expectations, such as marriage and religion. She says that in family parties, her aunts and cousins never ask about her educational progress but instead ask the inevitable, “¿Y el Novio?” 

 

Book Review: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Sisterhood of the Traveling PantsWritten by Andrea Barreto

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares is an amazing start to a series based on four very different young girls as they navigate young adulthood. The all too familiar feeling of being caught in a moment where everything is on the brink of changing sets the tone for what is meant to be a transformative summer. Aptly nicknamed the Septembers because of their birthdays, Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget have grown up spending all their time together. Yet this is the first summer they spend apart and for Carmen especially, this is becomes more difficult to understand.

Though they are the oldest sibling in their own families, each of the Septembers holds a different role in their circle: Tibby is the anti-conformist; Lena, the introverted painter; Bridget, the fearless athlete; and Carmen, the creative writer. Perhaps because Carmen is the youngest in her group of friends, she feels the most impacted by the different routes this summer is taking them. It was her desire that they take a pair of pants that magically fit each girl on their trips in hopes of keeping a piece of one another even in their time apart. Her summer journey takes her to South Carolina for some quality time with her mostly absent father. After her parents separated when she was a child, Carmen tried her hardest to be a daughter that her father would be proud of. The desire to be the best in the eyes of a parent is something I’m sure many young children can understand, and this summer was supposed to be Carmen’s biggest opportunity to show her father what he was missing.

Of course, things don’t go according to plan when Carmen realizes her father has become engaged to a woman with two seemingly perfect children of her own. Soon her father is breaking tennis dates with Carmen to deal with wedding details crises and cheering on his future son at soccer games. All of these appear to be normal family problems, which is why the books are so meaningful. These stories sound like my friends in high school, even my own family situation to an extent. It is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity. From this moment on we see Carmen at an uncomfortable bridesmaid dress fitting, made even more awkward because her full figure comes from her mother’s Puerto Rican heritage.  Rewind a little and we see at the beginning of the novel that even within her own group of friends, Carmen feels isolated; she fears the pants won’t fit over her thighs and she didn’t want to be “the big fatso”. Like many of us when faced with a difficult situation, Carmen literally runs away from the bridal store, expecting her father to notice her absence and being painfully disappointed when he fails to do so.

In her explanations to her mother and even Tibby, Carmen cannot understand why they would assume she’s mad at her father when she actually blames his new family. In her anger, she pushes Tibby away but ends up coming to the conclusion that she cannot admit any negative feelings towards her father. When I was a high school student reading this, this particular moment struck a nerve inside me. The difference was, however, that I could not stand up to my friends. I never had a problem speaking up for myself among my family, because I knew they would always be there for me regardless. The nervous heartbeats and trembling hands came whenever I had to assert myself to someone else, someone I didn’t know wouldn’t stay mad at me forever. This is exactly what Tibby reveals to Carmen when Carmen says she has no problem being mad at her friends – “Maybe, sometimes, it’s easier to be mad at the people you trust because you know they’ll always love you, no matter what.” This trust is something that, try as she might, Carmen was never able to develop with her father. The more she thought about it, the more Carmen realized there was so much she was holding back in an effort to have a happy relationship with her father. Being somewhat passive aggressive myself, I had to really reflect on what I personally was scared of when confronting other people.

Carmen took the time to consider that maybe there was something she herself was doing wrong, and in this way she managed to exude a quieter strength than what she expected. Sometimes there is this idea of how we expect courage to manifest, that it should be in your face and glaringly obvious as a feat of bravery. Occasionally, it is. But more often than not, it’s that quiet shift we feel within ourselves when something significant happens. Carmen felt that shift, and finally decided to act on it. She called her father and finally told him that she resented him for finding a family he preferred over her. Her father apologized but Carmen knew that the words would only matter if they both changed their behavior. So along with the help of her friends, she drove up for her father’s wedding and stood by his side in those traveling pants. While the pants themselves did not change Carmen as a person, it helped for all of the girls to believe that a force greater than they could imagine was a witness to their transformative journeys. This belief is told in many different ways and in all kinds of stories. The beauty of this narrative in particular comes from how deeply rooted it is in our daily reality while never forgetting the existence of that special magic they feel lives in a pair of blue jeans.

Donor Spotlight: United Way

United Way of El Paso continues to improve the lives of El Paso families by developing programs and assisting non-profit organizations that meet the core values of the United Way (integrity, diversity, accountability, and leadership). Through a mini-grant program, “Pennies for Change” collection, United Way helped fund our Smart Chicas program. Smart Chicas encouraged girls to stay in school and to go to college. As part of this college-bound initiative, Smart Chicas hosted career and college panels, college prep activities, and field trips to UTEP, Texas Tech and EPCC for our after-school clubs. In doing so, girls in our clubs created multimedia projects using photography, blogs, posters, videos, and podcasts. The multimedia projects encouraged their peers to stay in school and explore higher education.

Volunteer Spotlight: Olga Ochoa

Olga Ochoa, a volunteer since 2012, started as a Youth Outreach Intern and is now one of the coordinators for the Girl Talk workshops hosted by Latinitas at the JuvenileDetentionCenter. Olga is a key leader in guiding young women in the detention center through hands-on self-expression activities. The goal of these activities is to boost their self-esteem, promote good decision making and encourage girls to take steps towards a positive future. Girls have participated in projects to help them share their own experiences, and discuss important topics like healthy relationships, goal setting, education and confidence. “[Latinitas] is important for young girls because it helps them see and think ahead. I would recommend it to others because it is a great way to establish motivation among young girls and guide them to succeed in their future,” says Olga. Olga is an inspirational role model to young girls. She graduated from UTEP with a BA in Anthropology and is currently wrapping up her last semester as a Masters student.

Volunteer Spotlight: Maribel Padilla

Maribel Padilla has been an integral part of Latinitas since 2012. She started as a Club Leader and is now our go-to person for multimedia design and video editing.

 

I believe very passionately in the goal Latinitas is trying to reach, which is that of empowering young Latinas to follow a career path in media and technology. As a fellow media maker, I believe the best way to strengthen my skills is to try and teach it to someone else,” adds Maribel.

 

Estela Casas inspired Maribel Padilla over 10 years ago when Estela asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, Maribel answered she wanted to be on TV just like Estela. Forward to 2013, and Maribel just graduated last December with a Creative Multimedia Degree from NMSU and is on her way to become a leading Latina in the film industry. She is currently part of the Production Crew for KCOS-13 and aspires to one day “move to a big city and work on big film productions.

 

Her advice to future journalists and filmmakers is to “get involved in as many extra-curricular activities. Colleges like students who like to get involved.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Brianna Castrejon

Briana Castrejon, a student at the University of Texas at El Paso, is a natural-born leader. She has led several workshops in our after school clubs and in our Be YOUnique, College Chica, Healthy Chica and Wellnes workshops, and the Aim High Conference. She loves leading activities and helping inspire local youth, because these programs allow them to start thinking about college as well as boost their self-esteem and self-worth.

“My sister became an intern at Latinitas, and would talk about her exciting experiences in working for this organization and the different people she was able to meet. This is what motivated me to join Latinitas…The most rewarding experiences is being able to interact with the young girls in both the workshops or the clubs. They are so happy to be with you as you are to see them. You are always learning through each other by talking about new experiences and discussing difficult topics.”

Donor Spotlight: Altar’d State

This community-minded store is driven by a desire to give back to those in need. The Latinitas team is honored to have been selected as Altar’d States El Paso store charity partner for the month of January and February and to welcome Altar’d employees as volunteers during our self-esteem workshops. Mission Mondays is a charity project where every Monday 10% of net proceeds from each store go to various local charities. Altar’d State in the Fountains shopping center is an energetic fashion boutique that offers a distinctive shopping experience for women interested in the latest fashion finds, the most anticipated accessories and that next great gift. Altar’d State customers can enjoy supporting an organization that promotes confidence, civic involvement and positivity through its merchandise and involvement.

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