Casting My First Ballot



On October 31, 2012 I voted for the very first time. I was so excited I chose to do it the long way, though I technically cast a straight ballot; I even saved the neat little sticker with the Presidential seal and the year on it. I knew that the fact that I was able to vote at all was thanks to brave women who just under a century ago fought with everything they had for the right, as well as men and women who fought for minorities to be able to vote. People in other countries would give anything to do what I was doing at that moment. Even some former students and younger friends were itching to get to polls, but they will have to wait until the next election.

Still excited, thankful, and hopeful, I walked out of the voting center feeling quite patriotic. I was with a friend so we went out for a snack and talked, as usual. Our conversation inevitably went back to the polls as we were both first time voters; we wondered how people, especially women and minorities, would chose not to vote. Personally, I was so consumed with this election that my mom would tease me saying how I should become one of the pundits on TV making their predictions and analyzing the campaigns.  As I mentioned, I was excited to be doing my civic duty as an American citizen. After all, there were so many issues at stake starting from the economy to social policies. How could opinionated people not make their voices heard? As one of my favorite presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” As my friend and I chatted, we realized one reason why people wouldn’t vote was common.

The biggest reason that people we knew weren’t going to vote was because they believed their vote didn’t matter, or that the candidates were corrupt no matter which party they belong to. For example, my mom did not vote until the 2008 election, and only because I had to sort of guilt her into going. (I told her that not only did her future matter, but mine did too.) My dad on the other hand, still won’t vote because he can’t stand politics and doesn’t think his vote truly counts,. Likewise, my maternal grandma, who became a citizen when she was about my age, never voted either because she believes even the best politician is crooked.

My friend and I reasoned that while it is true that there are many “crooked” politicians out there, it is not true that our votes do not matter. The only way we can keep dishonest or greedy people from becoming leaders is to speak up. Educate ourselves about the candidates and pick the one that has the best intentions for our respective communities. Another friend of mine put it beautifully when he said “A good politician tries to make today better; a great politician tries to make tomorrow better too.” Because of this, I was excited and proud to cast my ballot for the first time that day and will be equally proud to cast it in the next elections. And you should, too!

Latinas Contra el Bullying

November 15, 2015, Facebook user Miguel Marquize Howell posted a video with the caption, “OK that was a grown up move… Kids was getting bullied and ragged on about his shoes…. so another student bought him some Lebron’s the next day…💯💯💯.” 180,104 likes and 229,624 shares later this video continues to go viral. But why?

According to “Latina Teen Suicide and Bullying,” published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, bullying is an issue prevalent across many different races and even across countries. In a sense, bullying is a universal problem, but the effects of bullying seem to take a different toll on Latinas. “Compared to national trends, [the] state-wide data of Latina adolescents, predominantly of Mexican descent, [indicated] higher than national rates of suicide ideation, plans, and attempts.”

While Latinas had higher rates of suicide attempts, which were associated with being victims of bullying, they also had higher rates of plans and ideation, which were associated with being the actual bully. Con cuidado chica; don’t let this be you, being a bully is nothing to be proud of.

As a Latina, however, you may also be susceptible to different kinds of bullying.

Some Latinas are fortunate enough to have been raised speaking two languages, the pronunciation may not always be perfect, pero le haces el intento, but you try. People, however, may try and use this against you. You either speak too much English, or speak it too well, and are shamed for being white-washed. Or you speak with too thick of a Spanish accent, and then are made fun of or judged. Just take for example Vanessa Ruiz, a news anchor, who was torn to pieces by the media for pronouncing Spanish words in Español.

What You Wear

Latinas also have to be really careful of their attire. You can’t wear hoops and dark lipstick simultaneously, or you are automatically perceived as a chola. For some this can be a “fashion statement,” but for others it can be seen as a “negative” portrayal of culture.

Color of Your Skin 

Shades of skin are also an attribute Latinas are critiqued on. “One day, I stayed out too late in the sun and when I came back inside my Abuela flipped. ‘Pareces pan tostado,’ she said. There was a look of horror on her face. I don’t think it was so much so because I was tan. But because now the world could see it,”  says  Daniela, 19.

Standing Up Contra Los Bullies

While Latinas may experience bullying in different ways than others, the experience of being bullied is not unique to Latinas alone. As members of society, we must aim for improvement of our own conditions as well as the conditions of those around us. Bullying may be an issue that will be around for years to come, but you, chica, can make a difference.

Some steps to combating bullying include:

  • Don’t participate in bullying! Consider your actions and the feelings of others during social interactions.
  • Be able to recognize bullying. If you see it, stop it. Speak up and act against it. More often than not, the bully is able to act up because she feels that no one will stop her. But if someone calls attention to her actions the odds of her continuing them will diminish.
  • But most importantly, if you are being bullied, don’t let them get to you, chica. Whatever the reason be for their actions, you are perfect and you should be proud.

Tu voz es poder. Your voice is power, and with it you can build this world up or tear it down. But how awesome is it to know that you alone can do good in this world, that by simply speaking up for others or refusing to act in a hurtful manner, you can shine a light on a hurting soul or even save a life. You never know.

friends hug

What I Learned After High School


There are many things I wish I knew during high school. From one chica to another, here are four things that will make life a little easier in the future:

Don’t take things too seriously

Take serious things seriously and the rest, let it roll. If it’s just a school assignment, a test or a simple homework, do it and don’t stress too much about it, there are more important things to stress about in life. If your friend hasn’t talked to you in a day it’s not because he/she hates you, maybe they’re busy. Don’t get your head too into things that can be easily solved. I’m not saying you should not care about school or your friends, because they’re really important things. But instead, be responsible and get things done, without them taking all the time and importance of your life.

Friends come and go, but the real ones will stay forever

You will always have problems with fake friends, they’ll talk behind you back, create silly gossip, mistreat you and do terrible things. But thanks to those experiences you learn who your real friends are. Your real friends will stay with you through thick and thin and will be there for you when you need them. Don’t get discouraged if you realize that many of the people around you are not true to you, it happens at every stage of our lives. The good thing is to realize it soon so you wont get hurt. Be careful with who you trust. And always be thankful and appreciate the people in your life.

It’s not the end of the world

Even if it feels like that, it´s not. You´re just going through a rough patch in your life, it gets dark for a reason, and you don´t see the light at the end of the road. It feels like your pain doesn´t get to an end. But it gets better, there´s always something better waiting for you after everything. Don´t overthink what happens to you. Every single memory and person will leave something in your life, make sure it´s something good. We’ve all been in situations where it all gets tough and at the end, everything  gets better.

Don’t give up

Work hard for whatever you want in life. Work for your dreams. If you feel depressed and sad because you feel like you’re not trying hard enough, don’t get discouraged! It happens all the time, the thing is to get up and try again. Dreams and things that are worth it don’t come easy. The best that you can do is be patient and never give up. Because in the end it’ll be worth it. When you see what you’ve achieved, you won’t remember or care about how much it took you to get there.

Whether you want to be an actress, singer, doctor, an astronaut, a teacher, etc.  you can make it! Everything is possible.

Sometimes, you and your friends will fall into a routine, you guys will be hanging out at the same places and when you suggest something new, they may reject it. But if you want to do it, do it! Get more friends that share your interests, go out, explore while you can, in high school you’re way more free than you’ll be in college or at work. Take advantage of all the time you have. Because in a few years you may be worrying about a lot of things and you won’t have time to try new things. Your older self will be grateful to you.

Life Lessons from Mamá

For Mother’s Day we asked a group of chicas about their relationships with their mamas. From the interviews we found six important lessons these chicas have learned from their mom.

Be confident
As daughters, we are constantly worried about our physical appearance and confidence in ourselves, which is why many of us get nervous during dates or even at school presentations; many Latinas ask their moms for advice on this topics, especially because many of us don’t know how to raise our self esteem.

“One important thing my mother always tells me is to never make myself less than the other people; I do not have to lower my head in front of problems, I have to always look directly to them and confront them with attitude, ” says Leticia Ugarte, 18.

Similarly, Montserrat Dominguez, 13, defines herself as a nervous person and has received strong advice from her mom. “I think since I am a girl, she is always trying to mold me and she tells me to be confident about myself and to value myself,” says Dominguez.

Be grateful and appreciate what you have
“My mom has had a very difficult life and she teaches me to value mine since I have had it easy in comparison with her; I remind myself of this though every time I want to complain about something,” says Jazmin Herrera, 18.

“I can notice how my mom lives and makes a lot of sacrifices just for me to succeed. All of that devotion she gives to me, makes me repay her with succeeding at all the things that motivate me,” says America Alvillar, 19.

Be aware of responsibilities
“Being responsible is the most important thing my mom has taught me. She always tells me there is time for everything. For example, when she was studying at college, if she knew she was going out with her friends at the weekend and she knew she was coming late, she either do her homework before spending time with her friends or she would do it afterwards, even if she came at 3:00 am in the morning, she kept studying or doing whatever she had to do,” says Michelle Hidalgo, 18.

Focus on education
“Back at home, we sometimes laugh at my mom because she used to be the nerd of her classroom, she didn’t have any friends at all (she used to sit next to her teacher); and we commonly laugh at her at dinner table but she always says those things doesn’t matter as much as her education and that she is very proud of who she has become thanks to those habits of studying.  I realize now that because of those habits, because of that attitude during her entire academic career, that we are where we are because of that. Without those qualities, we wouldn’t be where we are now, we wouldn’t live in the house that we live now, maybe I wouldn’t be studying where I study. She did a lot of effort and didn’t care about what other people said about her. That’s what I admire the most in my mom,” shares Ugarte.

“You have to see the positive side on every negative stuff you are going through. Learn how to focus on the bright side of your problem, or even at the stuff you don’t like (a class, a certain person that you don’t get along with, etc.),”  says says Dominguez.

Never give up
We can learn a lot from our moms by just listening to their experiences, like Herrera says: “What I have learned from my mom’s experiences is to never give up. My mom is not the smartest person but has gotten 90% scholarships and she is currently studying for her PhD; I mean, even though she is not the best at something, she works for it and tries so hard that she ends up being one of the best.” Marlyn Garcia, Jazmin’s mom, shares that  “[Jazmin] is always telling me to move forward, no matter where you come from, you can achieve great things. ”

Be independent
“My mom has always told me to be independent, that I don’t need anyone to succeed at something. Back in my childhood, she used to make me do the laundry if I wanted to go out with my friends. That was the biggest responsibility I had in my house and that taught me to be clean for reunions, school, and pretty much elsewhere. She taught me responsibility and sacrifices if I wanted something, ” says Evelyn Renteria, 18.

“What I remember most of my mom is how she solves things, she is always very concrete, direct, she goes directly to her point at making an argument and, since I am a daily witness of that, I get to learn how to solve my own stuff too,” shares Alvillar.

While some chicas in this article did not view their mom as their best friend, there was still a strong connection and relationship with her. For Alvillar, her mom is her BFF.

“I see her basically as my best friend because, for me, one good friend is always by your side, which is not always okay, meanwhile a best friend says to you when you are stepping out of line or tells you how things really are, directly facing to you and telling you the truth. And of course, what a best person for that task than your mother, she is the one person that is going to tell you that you are wrong, that you’re not always right. A best friend also teaches you new things you haven’t notice or learned and at the time a best friend is telling you those stuff in which she thinks you are wrong, you are also learning to do those things right and by disagreements you get to learn how to do it. What a best person than your mom for it,” shares Alvillar.

This Mother’s Day be sure to hug your mama, tell her you love her, and cherish her wisdom.

I am a DREAMer Activist

Written by Maria Esquinca dreamers-500x280-crop-v08

When Viviana Sanchez was five-years-old, she got on a plane with her mother and three-year-old-brother. They flew past the vast ocean, past paradise, and left Guayaquil behind, a city on the coast of Ecuador, until they arrived in N.Y.

Sanchez, now 22-years-old and a senior psychology major at York College, City University of New York, says she has a very vivid memory of the day she left Ecuador. She still remembers her mom asking her if she was excited to see her father, who had already been living in the U.S. for over a year.

“My father was forced to come here, he had to come to a different country not knowing the language, not knowing anything,” Sanchez said. “He always tells me this story, how the first time that he came here he was all alone and nobody had come to pick him up. It was very hard for him.”

Sanchez says her parents immigrated to the U.S. because they couldn’t find a job in Ecuador. They came to the U.S. with tourist visas, but eventually they expired.

According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2014, there were 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and a majority of them entered the country without valid documents or arrived with valid visas but stayed past the expiration.

Because Sanchez was a minor when she immigrated into the U.S., she is considered a DREAMer under Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrival, a policy announced by President Barack Obama in 2012.

DACA allows the the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to use prosecutorial discretion to not deport undocumented youth. Immigrants who came to the U.S before their 16th birthday, and meet other guidelines, have temporary permission to stay in the U.S. and not be deported. It is not considered legal status like a visa or a permanent resident card, but they are authorized to work.

In 2014, Obama expanded DACA, however federal district court in Texas issued an expansion that temporarily placed the expanded DACA program on hold.

“I wanted to go get my passport renewed with my family so we could see if I could purchase tickets and just go back to Ecuador, which I don’t know nothing about,” Sanchez says. “As soon as I got back home and I took out my passport I turned on the news… it was an emotional experience because it was on that day, that I felt like leaving the country, that DACA was announced.”

Before DACA, Sanchez could not find a job and struggled to pay for school. Because of her status, she does not qualify for financial aid.

“I was offered like a scholarship mid-junior year,” she said.

“I remember coming home and I told my parents ‘hey I was offered a scholarship because I’m a good student in school,’ and they were like you can’t apply (to college) because you don’t have a social security number.”

It was that same year that she experienced her first instance of discrimination. Sanchez was interning at a hospital in New York for high school credit. She was placed in an HIV prevention unit, but she didn’t know that they were going to ask her for paperwork.

By this time, Sanchez says she knew she didn’t have a social security number, but she didn’t know she was considered “illegal.”

“I remember the administrator just looking at me and giving me a dirty look, and she was like ‘are you an illegal?’” Sanchez said.

“I felt like crying, I didn’t know how to respond. At the time I didn’t know my rights or anything, they’re not supposed to be interrogating you about your status when you’re in school. I know that now.”

Sanchez thought she wouldn’t be able to go to college; however, after encouragement from her parents, Sanchez applied and was able to pay with the help of her parents. The number of classes she could take would fluctuate based on what she could afford.

“It was really frustrating. I was forced to only take two classes (freshmen year). I had to drop my other classes because my parents were like ‘no, that’s too much money.”

A separate semester one of her mentors fundraised money to pay her classes. After DACA, she got a job and also helped pay for her education. This semester, her education is being funded through a scholarship.

While in college, Sanchez became highly involved in the immigration activism community. She joined the New York State Youth Leadership Council, a non-profit led by and aimed at creating opportunities for undocumented youth. She is also joined Make the Road New York, an organization that aims to build Latino and working class communities through organizing, among other things. Currently, Make the Road NY, is advocating for the New York DREAM act, which would allow DREAMers that meet in-state requirements to be eligible for state financial aid and scholarships.

Because of her involvement with Make the Road NY, one of her mentors encouraged her to apply for the Adobe Youth Voices National Audio/ Story telling competition in 2012. She was one of the finalists. In her submission, an audio story, she told her immigration story.

“A lot of people are still very scared to tell their stories, and I was one of them for a very long time,” she said.

“We need to tell our stories, not only for ourselves and our families, but for people to understand our struggles and who we are. That we are not criminals, that we are not here to hurt anyone, that we work very hard.”

She, alongside 34 other DREAMers, was also featured on the cover of Time Magazine, with Jose Antonio Vargas, Filipino journalist, filmmaker and immigration rights activist.

“And that’s how my activism started,” Sanchez said.

Currently, Sanchez is still finishing up her final year in college and advocating, because the “struggle continues.”

“I’m a lot of things: I’m a student, I’m someone’s daughter, I’m someone’s sister…I’m a dreamer,” Sanchez adds.

Soy Chica Poderosa


There are different kinds of strengths that girls possess and every single one matters. As small as something may seem, it can be something huge for another.

I am a chica poderosa because I have been fighting against depression every day of my life for the most part of my life. While many people would think that beating depression is relatively easy – just smile and don’t be sad! – it’s an exhausting battle. People have told me to think positive but it’s easier said than done, especially to people who have never experienced any sort of mental illness before. Sometimes these well-meaning words make it worse.

People with depression experience hopelessness in most aspects of life, and most of us have learned helplessness. We don’t do anything about our situation because it won’t change anything. At least, that is what I used to think. This type of behavior is associated with learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness, according to psychology, is “a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.”

The condition can be picked up from years of being subjected to abuse. This is exactly how I picked it up. I grew up in an abusive household and eventually, I didn’t think that there was anything I could do to change my situation. My mother and I lived like this for years.Even after we had gotten out of my abusive father’s grasp, the learned helplessness still lingered in my mind. Depression was born from it.

Eventually, through years and years of therapy and psychiatric evaluations, I managed to be able to control it.

Many people with depression have dangerous urges. Many people with depression don’t see the point on keeping on living; many people with depression want everything to stop. A sense of hopelessness suffocates us.

I am a chica poderosa because I have managed to overcome said urges. I live every day with a small voice in the back of my head telling me to go through with many dangerous things but through sheer power of will, I keep myself in check.

I am a chica poderosa because of the people that surround me. My mother, my friends, my teachers. I cope with depression by trying to do some good in the world. I have involved myself in various organizations to be able to make a difference in my community.

The one that has made the greatest impact in my life has been The Austin High Latino Partnership. AHLP is an academic and service-oriented organization dedicated to improving Austin through various service projects. For example, we carried out a Blue Jean Drive in which we managed to collect 181 gently used blue jeans and various other articles of clothing and then donated them to Casa Marianella, an emergency housing shelter in East Austin, which currently houses about 35 immigrants and 11 families.

I’m a chica poderosa and you can be too. You just have to find your ray of light. Helping the community is mine. It’s what I live for.

Tips to Reach Your Goals

With the new year upon us, the time to think and plan how to reach our new year’s resolutions is now! But with life, friends, school and many other things, it is really hard to actually have time to accomplish our resolutions. It’s the time to renew yourself. Add something different to your life and change to improve. Here are a few things you can do to achieve them:Goals

1- Be realistic
We all have dreams that we want to accomplish in the future. Some want to be actresses, models, astronauts or run their own business. But let’s be real; you can’t do that overnight. Think about the realistic goals that you can accomplish in a month, 3 months or 6 months.

“Try to set dates so that each time you accomplish that resolution little by little and it might make it easier if you give yourself smaller goals that at the end turn into the big goal you are trying to accomplish,” shared Itzel Barraza when describing how she reaches her goals.

2- Start working right away

As soon as the year begins or get to your house after vacations, start planning and working to see how you are going to accomplish your resolutions. Baby steps is fine, as long as you’re fully committed to getting to the finish line. Set a plan and the times and the deadline to complete certain things, this is really helpful and will keep you focused on your goal. Everything that is worth it, takes time. If you really want to accomplish something, be responsible and create a schedule to go step by step.  Setting aside some time like 20 minutes a day can be a big step. “Make your list and try your best to complete it,” shared Ariadne Venegas.

3- Talk to people about your goals

Sometimes, we are afraid to tell somebody else about our dreams, whether it is something really simple or your life dreams. We get anxious because they might not like our ideas, think they are reasonable or they might react negatively. Most of the times, people are willing to listen to you! Your loved ones will care about hearing your goals and will support you. If you tell your parents and friends about what you want to do, they might even offer some help and encouragement. So don’t be afraid to tell about your resolutions!

4-Get inspired

It can be easy to get tired of trying, loose interest in what you’re trying to achieve or just stop trying. Create a vision board to envision your goals. Find the things that keep you motivated.

“I would say to write them out so you can always be reminded of them. Perhaps in a new calendar you can hang on your room, ” added Itzel.

5- Take a break

Trying to accomplish your resolutions is not easy, it takes time, hard work, sacrifices, energy and the willingness of keep going. It’s fine to rest some times, if you feel like you need a break. Because you will be doing it with a negative attitude and it may not come out the way you want. Feel free to take a cheat day or two and have fun. This can help you renew and approach your goal without stress.

It’s the time of the year to plan what you want to do to change next year, and the time to be happy and enjoy your free time. Here’s for a happy and crazy new year!

Diversity is Strength

I believe that diversity is strength.

Growing up in an upper middle-class town in West Hartford Connecticut, I was often ashamed of my cultural background. Going to magnet schools all my life, I was surrounded by peers that lived very privileged lives. Designer bags, personal chefs, and the concept of weekly “allowance” were material norms that seemed to be expected. My parents are Colombian immigrants, speak Spanish, and have traditional Colombian values. They have worked hard all of their lives in order to provide us with food, education, and a home to live in. Often working two or three jobs each, they dedicated their lives to obtaining the American dream of their children to have a better life in America. The food, the music, and the cultural values were all left at home. I didn’t acknowledge them when I was with my friends at school.                                   

  “Colombia? What part of Mexico is that from?”

Growing up I didn’t understand why I was different. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t tall blonde and skinny. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have a coach bag in middle school. I didn’t understand the value of being different. I would dye and straighten my hair, dress a certain way, and talk like the rest of my peers in order to try to fit in and assimilate. I didn’t want to be known as the only Hispanic in the class. Going from educational institution to the next, I often received white privilege because of my appearance. The assumption that everyone was of rich, white, American background was an unspoken rule that the community had. But cultural studies have always fascinated me. I just didn’t understand my own. I didn’t understand who I was. I was either too American for my Colombian friends, or too exotic for my white friends.

When I spent a weekend in Barcelona, Spain while my travels abroad, I understood who I truly was. Barcelona was a beautiful city filled with Spanish culture. I stayed at a youth hostel in Barcelona that accommodated young travelers from around the world at cheap prices. Unpacking in my room, there was so much diversity in the people staying there. Beds filled with Russians, Romanians, Koreans, and American travelers all came together in that moment in time. Free tours were given every morning of different locations throughout the city.The weather was absolutely perfect. The sun illuminated all the beautiful details of the buildings and could see every carving the architected intended. Passing food trucks the waft of spices and grilled BBQ filled our noses. The commotion and bustle of beeping cars, people talking in Castilian, and the sounds of the exotic birds chirping made such a harmonious melody that seemed fit for the environment. Weaving in and out of markets I’d see the array of brightly colored fresh fruits and vegetables, and hand crafted trinkets available to purchase. It was something out of a movie. The new sights, sounds, and knowledge we obtained within that 2 hour tour was incredible. But that wasn’t the most impacting part of the experience.

During lunch, we were sent off to explore the great restaurants in the city. Absolutely starving from all the temptation of food we passed, a group of about ten of us decided to go to a restaurant nearby. A traditional Spanish aura was clearly preset in this restaurant. A tapa bar filled the far wall alongside the stacks of Spanish wines.  Sitting down, I was surrounded by an Australian couple, Norwegians, a group of Romanians, and myself. We all introduced ourselves and said where we were from. I told everyone I was from the states and was studying abroad in London. We then began telling stories of our travels, our past and what we had planned to do while in Barcelona. Once the waiter arrived to our table, he attempted to speak English to take our orders. When he came around to me, I spoke to him in Spanish to better understand him and to know what was in the meal I had. Complete shock filled both the waiters face and the rest of the groups face when they heard me speak fluent Spanish. The waiter enjoyed our conversation and offered the group bottomless sangria for the rest of the evening.

“Aren’t you American?”
“I am, but I am also Colombian. I am Colombian American”

That was probably the first time I identified myself as a Colombian American. Yes, I grew up in the United States, but I grew up in a Colombian household and was taught the values and morals that Colombians had. Having those customs allowed me to have a better experience while abroad because I was able to connect with people who had similar views and communicate with Spanish speakers. I was seen as a key asset in the group because I was able to haggle prices, ask directions, and understand the cultural norms of respect that the others didn’t. For example, in other parts of Europe it is common to snap twice at the waiter to get their attention. In Spain, it would be very disrespectful to snap at a waiter, and they would be very offended. Minute details like these had to be explained because of the difference in culture, and I was able to do that. That day, I had the most delicious paella I have ever tasted. The rice was baked to perfection. The seafood was so incredible fresh, and each bite was filled with different spices. During that lunch, time flew, conversations lasted, and friendships were made.

After lunch, I felt confident in my cultural background for the first time in my life. I knew that growing up differently allowed me to gain skills and values that others did not. Having an open mind, giving and receiving respect, and understanding the value of my culture made me rethink what I wanted to gain from my trip to Barcelona. I didn’t just want to spend what limited time I had clubbing or partying at the beach, as my friends wanted to. I wanted to dive deep into the Spanish culture and see a traditional flamenco show. I ditched the comfort of my American friends and went with my new Australian friends to see this show. I turned out to be a flamenco gypsy performance instead of the traditional dance. The sound of the familiar Spanish beats, dance moves and aroma of food brought me back to Christmas parties at home. By the end of the night the three of us were invited on stage to dance with the band. After the performance was done, the three of us stayed for a bit talking and enjoying the atmosphere. The band was packing up and came over to talk to us. Their English was a bit broken, but I told them in Spanish that we really enjoyed the show. We ended up talking for about an hour with the band of gypsy musicians and how historically they have been discriminated against in the city, but they aim to represent the misunderstood culture. I thought that was very inspirational and just solidified my journey of cultural self-acceptance during that trip.

Everyone is different. We all have stories to tell, wisdom to spread and life obstacles we must tackle. Culture is seen differently everywhere. But, the skills and values you take from them, is was truly counts. I have had my ups and downs with identifying who I am. I didn’t want to be categorized based on race growing up. My trip to Barcelona, brought me back to the motherland. The land in which history thrives, music is loud, and energy is embraced. Diversity is strength, and that is what I believe.

History of Latina Feminism

Throughout history, women were often considered second-class citizens, lacking the right to vote and oftentimes valued predominantly for their ability to take care of a home and reproduce. It is only within fairly recent history that women in the Western Hemisphere have achieved some level of equality with men, demanding acknowledgement as autonomous human beings with minds and rights and goals. And while modern feminism as we know it may have its beginnings in white feminists, in many ways Latinas have taken up the mantle of the feminist cause. Non-Latina American feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped earn American women the right to vote in 1920 but But many Latin American feminists (i.e. Nisia Floresta and Lydia Cacho) soon followed suit, gaining females in their own countries similar recognition and opportunities. Fast forward to the present, there is a strong Latina presence in issues of female empowerment as various female political leaders work hard to prove their worth in a masculine arena. What’s more, female Latin America has now politically surpassed the United States in some ways.

But while the USA has yet to witness its first female president, one Latina in particular stands out in American politics as a prominent and powerful figure that will pave the way for future women. She is Sonia Sotomayor, a political powerhouse and a household name. Currently a Supreme Court Justice, she was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents. Her father died when she was a child and her mother forced to raise her alone. But despite this childhood tragedy she went on to achieve greatness, graduating sumam cum laude from Princeton University and attending Yale Law School. Then in 2009 she achieved national fame when President Obama nominated her to Supreme Court, where she still resides as she oversees major national legislation. But while Sotomayor is certainly paving the way for future women in politics and providing them ample inspiration, multiple countries in Latin America have already seen their first female President.

Dilma Roussef, the current President of Brazil, is the country’s first woman to be elected to the position. As a young woman Dilma fought against a military dictatorship, risking her life when she was captured, jailed and tortured for her beliefs. Upon release she became involved in politics and quickly moved up the power-ladder. She was Chief of Staff for the preceding President until her election in 2011. She has seen her share of career ups and downs but is internationally credited with pulling Brazil out of an economic slump through her support of business entrepreneurship. In this way her leadership provided opportunity for countless Brazilians who were suffering financially.

In 2006 Chile also witnessed its first female elected president. In fact, Michelle Bachelet was the first female elected president in all of Latin America. She knew from a young age that her life goal was to help others cope with pain and improve national health. She originally thought she would become a doctor but political turmoil in Chile turned her focus towards politics. In fact when Pinochet, a dictator, took control of the country in 1973 Bachelet joined a revolt against him. She was discovered and jailed, tortured, and beaten for months. Somehow she emerged with her soul stronger than ever and determined to find a way to redeem Chile and its people. Flash forward to the present she is now serving her second presidential term after having served for a time as executive director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Not only is Bachelet a remarkable person who endured great suffering, she actively works to promote female wellbeing in a country still marked by traditional machismo.

Argentina has seen not one but two female presidents. Isabel Perón [1974-1976] was the first female president of Argentina but she was not elected, simply assuming power because she was Vice-President when her husband Presidente Juan Perón died. The current President, Cristina Kirchner, is the first elected female president. Her first term, however, was marked with difficulties as she faced accusations of inflation and poor management of infrastructure and public security. In her current term she is facing charges in an alleged cover-up of a terrorist attack. In the case of Kirchner she does not present a fully uplifting example of female empowerment in the political arena: while figures like Sotomayor and Bachelet inspire other girls to achieve good, Kirchner presents a different lesson. Not only is it important to empower women and support their political successes, it is equally important to choose whom to support based on their character and record rather than on their gender alone.

In conclusion, Latina feminism is politically present and growing in both the United States and Latin America. The women who rise to power often do so despite obstacles and tragedies, proving that women can overcome any hardship and compete and win in male-dominated fields.  What’s more Latina feminism is still a work-in-progress and current Latinas chasing their dreams will one day be a part of the history of Latina feminism.

Language Discrimination

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Research on Hispanic trends conducted by Pew Research Center in 2012 showed that 2nd and 3rd generation Latinos in United States do not always speak Spanish. In fact, Spanish proficiency diminishes significantly as generations increase. Of Latinos born to immigrant parents, 80% can carry on a conversation in Spanish, while over half of third-generation Latinos speak little or no Spanish. Percentages for reading in Spanish fall even lower. Yet despite the fact that more and more US-born Latinos are speaking less Spanish, discrimination against them by Spanish-speaking Latinos continues to persist.

Elisa, 23, is painfully familiar with this reality. She grew up in a small Texan town that consisted largely of Hispanics. She grew up with 2nd-generation Mexican-American parents, and while random Spanish words and phrases like ‘mija’ and ‘arroz con pollo’ peppered her family’s vocabulary, she did not actually speak the Spanish language. This caused problems with some other Latinos, however, when they discovered that although she looked typically Mexican and ate Mexican foods and celebrated Mexican holidays she did not know the language. Spanish-speaking kids at school would either tease her by calling her a “fake” Hispanic or accuse her of pretending not to speak Spanish so that she could seem “like a white girl.” Although Elisa went on to minor in Spanish in college, she suffers from anxiety when speaking it in front of native speakers. She can’t shake the irrational belief that they are inwardly mocking and judging her. “I can’t seem to get those childhood voices out of my head,” she says. “It’s sad because Spanish feels tainted for me now.”

On the other hand Raquel, 19, speaks Spanish very well. She is a first-generation American born to Mexican parents and she grew up speaking the language daily with family and friends and also visiting her parents’ Mexican hometown annually. But she is well aware of the tendency of Hispanics to judge one another’s language abilities. She says her cousins from Mexico like to correct her grammatical errors and laugh when her American accent twists Spanish words. “They aren’t trying to be mean,” she says. “It’s just a joke. But it does make me self-conscious sometimes.”

Raquel says she just reminds herself that speaking perfect Spanish is not what makes her Mexican or Latino. And she’s right: blood, heritage and history determine one’s cultural ethnicity and whether or not someone speaks the language does not heighten or diminish his/her roots. And as Latinos become more established in the United States their children and grandchildren become more assimilated into mainstream culture and less acquainted with the homelands of their forefathers. As a result not every Latino has the advantage of Spanish-speaking parents at home. At the same time Spanish is a vibrant and growing language in the United States and those who do speak it deserve to take pride in that. Nonetheless Latinos can both celebrate the Spanish language and acknowledge that Latinos are linguistically diverse: some speak much Spanish, some speak a little, and some none at all. There’s no reason to believe Latinos must be one certain way. What’s more, diversity among Hispanics is one of our most compelling qualities.