Girl Talk: Latinx and Education

business chicaAccording to the Pew Research Center, the Latinx community is the largest minority group in the country, making up about 17% of the United State’s population. However, while many Latinx students go on to pursue higher education beyond high school, many end up dropping out due to economic strains and the pressure to provide for their families rather than themselves.

Then, there are those of us whom are perhaps lucky to not be considered a sole provider for our household. Growing up in the U.S. and watching my mom struggle to make ends meet without a college education, cleaning toilets and breaking her back for hours on end in heavy labor has made me realize how important education is.

I’m not saying that other Latinx students watching their parents struggle don’t realize it either, but I guess I am privileged. As I stated before, I do not face the pressure to be the sole provider within my household — I, unlike thousands, millions, of other Latinx students, am given the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Without a college degree in the U.S., we are basically nothing – people see us as inferior and brush us off as unintelligent because we don’t speak their language or broken parts of it.

Education is important to me because I am an undocumented student and I don’t have many opportunities for financial stability without it. Undocumented students like me cannot afford to mess up anything – we have to know exactly what we want to do with our life very early on in order to plan accordingly or else the financial cost of staying an extra year in college can burden us for the rest of our lives.

Education should be important to the Latino community because people see us as crime rate and dropout statistics. We are just a number to people and they can’t see the struggle – the blood, the sweat and tears our parents go through in order to give us a better life, an education. Education should be important to the Latino community so that we can give back to everyone that helped us achieve our dreams of getting a college degree to make something of ourselves – our parents who spend hours and days on end without breaks working in harsh conditions to bring bread to the table, our teachers who go above and beyond their duty in order to encourage us to never give up even when we’re feeling at our lowest, and our friends who are always there to support us.

Education should be important to the Latino community because we deserve a future, we deserve better because we are not just some crime rate, some “stupid illegals” or another high school dropout. We are so much more than that and we need an education to prove it not only to everyone who is against us but to ourselves and to give back to everyone who once gave to us first.

Latina Leadership in Guatemalan Animal Sanctuary

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In Guatemala City there’s an animal sanctuary that helps restore injured individuals and populations, and also helps establish the re-release of native species. The sanctuary, named Asociación de Rescate y Conservación de la Vida Silvestre (ARCAS), began as the small Mayan Biosphere Reserve in 1989, but in 1995, expanded into Petén, Guatemala, and Hawaii. ARCAS was founded by a group of Guatemalan citizens, who worked alongside other organizations. While alliances have changed, volunteers have always made up the bulk of the team. Today, we can recognize the efforts of three Latina workers for the success of ARCAS.

Miriam Monterroso, the sister of ARCAS founder Tulio Monterroso, is the current Executive Director of the sanctuary. She took power of the Board of Directors in 1994, after a US NGO affiliate was revealed to be corrupt, causing the reputation of ARCAS to fall, along with economic support. Monterroso, however, was able to turn that setback around, and make the organization stronger. She partnered up with CONAP (Consejo Nacional de Àreas Protegidas, or National Protected Area Council), SIGAP (Sistema Nacional de Àreas Protegidas, or National System of Protected Areas),  San Carlos University, the Human Society International (HSI), and the ZACC (Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation) accredited Columbus Zoo; each of which have helped to establish wildlife research, protection programs, or seminars. In fact, Monterosso herself has lead seminars, such as the 2010 Mangrove Seminar and 2012 ARCAS annual strategic planning seminar. She has also met with representatives across nations, such as Councilman Shinchi Kitajima of Jeju, Korea, for worldwide support. Within ARCAS itself, she has been able to expand the sanctuary into other locations, covering a larger variety of animals available for rescue. Monterosso’s latest project involves the proposed Guatemalan Animal Welfare Law. Currently, Guatemalans cannot report acts of animal cruelty. Implementation of the proposed law would set guidelines for the care of domestic pets, livestock, and even wildlife.

Another current project of ARCAS is the 2016 project to conserve the Yellow-naped Amazon, a species of parrot vulnerable to habitat loss through deforestation. Guatemalan biologist Christina Arravillaga was contracted to lead project. Some of her approaches include training local researchers on monitoring parrot data and establishing education activities at six sites. The project is considered to be a permanent program.

Lucia Garcia, the Director of ARCAS Hawaii, has also implemented programs to save a variety of species. To get to her role from her initial job as a freelance researcher, she faced obstacles like “gender inequality, lack of resources,” and “lack of enough staff.” However, she is now content with her position, claiming that it is more of a “daily passion” than job.

“I feel I have impacted wildlife population; my work here has been with the community in education and in community development. I am sure they (local children) are more conscious about their resources and will take care of (them). At the end, they are the future,” Garcia explains.

As of today, she is working on “policies and laws with the community, master plan of the marine protected area, implement(ation) of a system of trash…tourism, environmental education, migration research with the University of Naples, crawl count data with Telemark University, (and) animal rescue.” Definitely a full, but heroic schedule!

“In Guatemala, gender inequality is one of our greates(t) problem(a)s.” Lucia Garcia confesses. However, at ARCAS “we try to be a place where women have the same opportunities as men. We give equal salaries, we encourage and empower teenagers and girls to get involve(d) with (the) environment, in a way that betters their way of life.”

Considering the leadership and program coordination positions that women take in ARCAS, along with all those who support through volunteering, it can be easily seen that without allowing women in the workplace, ARCAS wouldn’t be as successful. The success of the sanctuary is important to the research and conservation of some of the world’s species, who each play a key role in the preservation of their beautiful environments and our beautiful Earth. Every individual’s contribution counts, no matter who you are, or how much you can achieve. According to Garcia, “there are going to be difficult moments, but have with yourself people that you can trust and that trust you… that will make the difficulties weaker.”

Spotlight: Diane Guerrero’s “In the Country We Love”

Latinitas and Diane

Latinitas and Diane

Written by Ari Gonzalez

Diane Guerrero is best known for her work on the hit TV shows Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, however, Diane is also a huge activist for immigration reform and the author of the book In the Country We Love. She is the daughter of two Colombian immigrants who were deported when she was only 14 years old, leaving her completely alone in the United States. In her book In the Country We Love, Diane discusses the hardships her parents had to face during their time in America, and how she was able to get to where she is today without her parents and older brother. We had the pleasure to speak to Diane at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas. about her book, as well as what it is like being a Latina in the entertainment industry.

Who did you turn to when you were afraid after your family was deported?
“I turned to my friends, I had family friends and I called them and they took me in.”

What advice do you have that may be in the same situation you were in?
“They need to inform themselves, it’s a matter of educating yourself, your family, and your community. I would say being involved as much as you can, you are a political being and you have a responsibility, and knowledge is power and once you have that under your belt then you can find different avenues where you can defend yourself.”

You have such great comedic timing, how are you able to stay so positive and be so funny after everything that you went through?
It’s the way I deal with things. If I don’t laugh, I cry, so I do my best to continue laughing. I also love laughing at my own jokes. It is something that I definitely got from my dad, he would always be so funny and laugh at his own jokes and I think that is where I get it from.”

What is it like being a Latina in the film industry?
“It is certainly difficult but not impossible as you can see. I think the first step is believing that we can, and making ourselves heard. I think it is so important that we represent ourselves and realize that we are a part of this narrative, and that we are a part of this country and that is our country too. I think it is getting better, and I am certainly not going to give up and I hope others join me in this. I think all we have to do is just show up.”

In The Country We Love tells the moving, inspirational story of a young Latina who beat the odds and accomplished her dreams. Diane Guerrero’s bravery to share her story inspires me and Latinas everywhere to try and make a difference. If you haven’t had the chance go read In The Country We Love and inform yourself on how you can help make a difference and bring more awareness to immigration reform.

Self-Love is a Revolution

Above my bedroom wall you will see a piece of paper and written on it is Love Yourself. It serves as a reminder to do just that, love myself. There is no magic book, no magic cure to self-love. Self-love can only come from one source and that is you.

You are the person that is going to get yourself out of bed, that is going to look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself the love that you deserve. As a self-identified queer Xicana, it can be hard to wake up and see the beauty in myself. As anyone who identifies as a Latina in this world, it can be difficult to see the beauty of who they are when the world is telling them that their bodies, skin and language is not enough.

You have to realize that you are worthy of living, that you are capable of fighting your past and present and that you can give the love that you’ve always needed. Whether it be repeatedly going to therapy, setting your limits, telling others to respect your boundaries, taking some time off, exercising, writing your heart out, whatever it may be, do it.

According to Ovc.org (Office for Victims of Crime), it is possible that “by the year 2050, the amount of Latinas who have experienced some form of sexual violence could reach 10.8 million.” Toxic relationships, abusive households, are a result of this sexual violence. Let go of toxic relationships, people and places that give you no growth. Realize that you are made of pure gold and deserve the best. Self-love is not easy. You will fall down, you will relapse, and you will question yourself. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay. You are a complex, multidimensional human being and with that comes flaws, mistakes and regrets.

Remember that your being is a revolution. That your hair, your body, skin color, everything that you are made up of is a revolution. And when all aspects of your life are telling you otherwise realize that self-love is an extraordinary revolution.

Letter to a Younger Me

Young girl,

You never walk alone, just misunderstood.

Yes, you are unique,

But life’s conditions, those are few and we’re all afflicted.

So don’t be scared to tell about yourself,

You’d be surprised when people open about themselves

How much like you they are.

That being said,

Always take their good advice,

And be able to tell wrong from right.

And if you fall get back up,

And if you fail…

Well lets just say, you shouldn’t,

Because every day, every hour, every second,

That’s a second chance.

And if for some reason you look back and feel regret,

Well then that’s a reason to try again.

And once you do that you have no longer failed,

You simply had a minor set back.

As for where you’re going,

You probably don’t know yet,

And if you do,

well I wouldn’t be surprised if the destination changed.

But what I will say is that that’s OK.

Follow your dreams,

Do what makes you happy,

And do all you do with passion,

I know that sounds cliché.

But it’s true,

in life everything falls into place,

even chaos has some order to it.

So in the meantime just be.

Just Be you.

Favorite Cultural Traditions

Chicas share their favorite cultural tradition. 

“My favorite Mexican culture tradition is the food. Which is not exactly a tradition, but it’s the best thing ever.

Mexican food is great! What I love the most about it is how there’s a classic dish that we all love at every family gathering. This is what makes me feel happy, not only for enjoying the food, but also because of what it means. After years and years of trying different types of food, nothing tastes as good as Mexican food to me. I always go back to tacos (the real ones), to enchiladas, mole or whatever is on the table.

Mexican food makes me proud because it is recognized everywhere in the world. This food is from where I belong. Mexican food is best prepared in my home country and, even if someday I get to be far from home, I’ll always remember my family and my hometown because of it.” – Fandi Zapien, 19

 

“My grandmother has always been devoted to La Virgen de Guadalupe. Since we were young she taught us her story, her prayers and how much faith she had in her.

I remember loving when December 12 would come around. Buñuelos, calientitos, champurrado, and posole were some of the food items that were never missing. My favorite part, of course, were the matachines guadalupanos, dancers that would move to the beat of the drums. They would make  so much noise with their colorful attires with every step they took. Also, they would dance in front of a statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe, decorated with flowers and twinkly lights, and would carry her with so much love and care and would dance for her and in her honor. Then, these men dressed in black and with very peculiar masks would dance around, play tricks on people and try to distract the dancers with no success. My mother would tell me it was all part of the performance and it would reassure everyone’s faith.

I also loved how the whole neighborhood would gather around. After the dancers performed they were invited to eat with us. We would serve them and everyone would eat together all the delicious food my grandmother and her vecinas cooked all day long.

At that age I only understood that it was a religious tradition. Something my grandmother, tías, mom, and everyone I knew, had so much faith in. When I grew up I learned more about it. Why people dance for her, why they continue to have faith in her and her whole story, which many don’t know goes way back to when her name was actually Tonantzin. I was so glad to find out that this was something that connected us to our indigenous roots, something I’ve always loved, and it only made me love this day and her story even more.

Now it is my favorite tradition. To me it is more than a religious ceremony or event. It is about family traditions, cultural values and indigenous roots. Things I believe one should never forget.” – Itzel Barraza, 24

 

“My favorite cultural tradition is September 16. I love Mexican food, so I really enjoy this celebration, as well as the dances. I think that this celebration makes people who are far from Mexico become close with their beloved country. The food is so delicious! I love the taquitos, enchiladas, churros, entomatadas, the beverages like limonada, jamaica. GOD! I can go over everything. I really enjoy that people dress as charros and adelitas. I mean, what other cultural tradition can be better than this one? If I were far from my Mexico, this would be the tradition that I would celebrate to get close to my culture. Mexico has many rich and colorful cultural traditions that make it unique and special.” – Ariadne Venegas, 23

 

“My favorite part about my culture is definitely the food. It’s what makes me, me. I love it, I worship it! (not really) but it is awesome! The Enchiladas, the tacos, tostadas, the spiciness, flautas, guacamole, and everything in between! When I think of the food, my face transforms into the emoji with the heart eyes and a smile!– Polet Espinoza, 23

Hispanic Heritage Month Video

This Hispanic Heritage Month, Latinitas show off their cultural pride, talk about their heritage and share their culture vision board describing what makes up their culture. Check out the videos created by Latinitas below. This video series is sponsored by Sprint.hhm-latinitas-videos

 

Benefits of Community College

College Chica, 2013

College Chica, 2013

Towards the end of my sophomore year, I began the process to enroll into Austin Community College as an Early College Start student. When I began my junior year of high school, I started the year enrolled in Composition 1301 and U.S. History 1301, basic college freshman courses. The second semester I was enrolled in college sophomore courses and during my senior year, I earned enough credit hours to be in sophomore standing when I enroll as a full time college student this upcoming fall.

Without community colleges offering these programs, a lot of low-income students would have to spend an extra year that they cannot afford in higher education. Because of my sophomore standing, I will be able to double major and still graduate within four years.

While high school students like to boast about being enrolled as Early College Start students when they are juniors, come senior year they look down on the same community college that offered them opportunities and gave them the necessary tools to succeed in the first place.

Many of my peers whom also took college level classes with me scoffed at the notion of enrolling full time in community college post graduation, saying that community colleges are too “easy” and only for slackers. It’s funny how things change – I don’t recall our community college classes being easy at all. In fact, as a top Advanced Placement student, I struggled to make my way into an A in all of my dual enrollment classes.

Community colleges shouldn’t be looked down on because they’re an equalizer. Community colleges open so many doors for low-income students, especially, when it comes to cost. I have so many friends who could have gone to the University of Texas at Austin or A&M but opted instead for Austin Community College because of little to no cost.

Community college, for many, is the smartest choice anyone can make and I will always be grateful for the opportunities it offered me. Without Austin Community College, I wouldn’t be about to enroll in Texas State on a near-full ride as a double major while pursuing a teaching certificate and an interpreter’s license. It simply wouldn’t have been possible at all.

Attending community college isn’t something to be ashamed of. You’re furthering your education and that’s all that matters in the end.

Mastering the English Language

English-Spanish

These Latinas from El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico share the problems they encountered during the process of mastering the English language. From not having enough time to practice speaking and/or writing English in school to lacking confidence, learning a new language is incredibly challenging with a lot of obstacles.

Grammar & Finding Ways to Practice: Claudia and Edith
“Learning English at first was intimidating to me, especially because you have to think in both languages when speaking and sometimes you have to translate the things you are going to say first, and then you tell them to people. This was the greatest and worst challenge I had to face when learning English,” said Claudia Romero, 19. She adds that practicing her English skills at her elementary school helped her immensely.

“I started dominating English by the time I was eight years old. I had a bit of a problem with fluency at certain points of my learning process, but there is nothing that practice wouldn’t take away,” she said.

While Claudia was able to practice to better her language skills, Edith de la Torre, 18, had a more difficult experience. Edith studied at a bilingual school in Juarez, but lived with a complete Spanish environment both at home and sometimes in school.

“[When I was learning English], homework wasn’t enough. I realized it was just some checklist of the various topics and after those ‘to-do’ lists we didn’t really go over the chapters again, so this was useless for me.”

For Edith, she learned English through music and movies. “For my own methods of practicing, I had to help myself through music on the radio or by changing the language at the movies I saw at home. I still having problems with grammar and writing, but at least the part of vocabulary I wanted to dominate is done.”

Being a Translator: Glenda
“I was born in-between the two languages because all of my mom’s family talks in Spanish and all the members from my dad’s family talk in English. It was a little chaotic once family got reunited sometimes, but I don’t think I had a first language; I was bilingual because of this feature in my family,” Glenda Cobos said. She shares that she was aware of the differences inside her families’ cultures, and, because of these problems, she always tried to bring her family together despite cultural differences.

“I wanted both of my families to be able to interact with each other without problems of communication, so this is why I had to be the translator of the family (for both sides),” said Glenda.

“I don’t think there are people who talk 100% of either language at the place we live in right now,” said Glenda, referring to the border of Juarez-El Paso.

Cultural and linguistic differences being the main problem for Glenda, time and patience towards her family were the key in overcoming this challenge. “It was hard in the beginning,” she said, “but you get used to it.”

Lacking Confidence & Always Questioning Yourself: Edith
“I still find myself in situations where I am talking to a native speaker and I am not sure if what I said is correct. I have the habit of asking my classmates in my English class about some words or how to write certain things. This is because I still don’t have enough confidence in myself because I realize I am still learning, and I prefer to ask instead of keeping the doubt alive,” said Edith.

Being called “pocha”: Claudia and Irely 
Pocho/a is a derogatory term used to refer to someone, specifically an “Americanized” Mexican, who is trying to “act white.” “Acting white” can mean several things — from dressing to speaking “English,” this term is meant to question your cultural heritage.

“People who use this word are ignorant because they don’t know the struggle of having to learn another language. Instead of criticizing us they should admire us because we want to speak fluently in both languages,” said Claudia Romero.

To deal with these critics, Irely Lara chooses to ignore them. “We should stop criticizing upon others firstly. Then, if we ever get criticized for saying one word in English when talking in Spanish, just ignore them. Any person talks the way they want so it’s ok to be like that,” said Irely, who was constantly shifting schools between communities in El Paso and Juarez.

“I practically grew up between El Paso and Juarez communities, so I was constantly speaking both languages yet people around me called me pocha. It didn’t really make any sound in me.” For Irely, the safest choice was not to pay attention, and her choice surprisingly worked for her.

Whether you are learning English for the first time or are trying to improve your English language skills, it takes time and effort. Everyone’s journey is different, but, as long as you preserver, you will get the results that you want.

Latina Beat: Speaking Kriol

Butterfly logoA brief explanation of my culture background: My Spanish-speaking paternal grandparents are originally from Mexico. My maternal grandmother, also originally from Mexico, spoke Yucatec Mayan and Spanish. My maternal grandfather was born in China and spoke Cantonese. My paternal grandparents gave birth to my father in Belize, and my father and his brothers were raised in Belize by my great-grandmother who was also Mayan, but spoke Spanish to my father and uncles. My mother was raised in Belize as well and grew up speaking English, Spanish, Mayan, Cantonese and Kriol. Kriol is the most popular language in Belize. It’s sort of a broken English dialect spoken with a thick Caribbean accent. My father used to speak Kriol, but he is now only fluent in Spanish and English.

Whew. I hope you got that.

Growing up in a multicultural family, I celebrated a lot of holidays, including traditional American holidays like Thanksgiving and Fourth of July. I celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday every year because my mother is Catholic. I also celebrate Mexican holidays like Cinco de Maya and Dia De Los Muertos, and I visit Belize every couple of years to celebrate the country’s Independence Day on September 21. And of course, I celebrate Chinese New Years, too!

However, there were some downsides. I was picked on in school for speaking odd. I spoke mostly Kriol at home, but I also spoke English and Spanish, and the languages sort of got mixed up in me. Instead of saying “three” I would say “tree” or instead of saying “thumb” I would say “tum” and I never knew native English speakers can distinguish simple mistakes. It didn’t help that my Asian features are most prominent. And the problem wasn’t just with my friends at school. When I went to Belize, my Belizean family made fun of me for speaking too “American.”  And my Spanish-speaking family always complain about how I cannot roll my r’s properly and that I speak Spanish like a gringa, but my accent was definitely not “white,” it was Caribbean. For a long time, I felt like I wasn’t fluent in any language.

As you can see, it’s a mess.

However, now I’ve learned that the different cultures that are a part of me is what makes me uniquely beautiful. ‘Til this day, Kriol is still the language I’m most comfortable speaking. I do not care what people think about my accent because I know I can speak English, Spanish, and Kriol – just in my own way. And that’s okay.