Growing Up Latina

written by Stephanie Puente

I was born in the United States, but my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents were born in different parts of Mexico. My dad and grandma only speak Spanish, which made it very difficult for me to communicate with them because I was accustomed to the English language. As I got older, I took Spanish classes and was becoming fluent in the language. I was very afraid to speak Spanish because we live in El Paso where the majority of people speak Spanish and judge you for not knowing Spanish well. I think this mentality made me question my identity as a Latina because my appearance does not look Latina, so many people always asked me if I spoke Spanish. I began to doubt my identity because of the lack of fluency in the language, but it was through my culture that I was able to gain confidence in who I am.

In my culture, food, traditions, and family plays a huge impact in who we are. For example, during Christmas, my family always gets together to help make tamales. It is part of our tradition and we are able to spend more time together. It was through my family’s customs that I gained more confidence in who I am and began to take pride in my identity. I was able to gain more confidence in speaking Spanish to my family and others, without the fear of being judged. My culture has allowed me to take pride in who I am and not question what others have to say to me about my own identity.

Growing up as a Latina, my biggest fear was not being accepted. However, as I got older, I began to understand that I am me. I am a unique individual and no one can take my identity away from me other than myself.  It is important to believe in who you are and not let others judge how you perceive your own identity. Therefore, I am glad my culture redirected me to believe in my Latina identity when others questioned my role as a Latina.

True Stories: Cultural Struggles

Fandi and Ariadne share their experience with cultural obstacles.

“I’ve had struggles with my culture before, and one of the most recent ones has been when I decided to come to study here in the US, my parents where really happy about it but the rest of my family wasn’t exactly delighted with this.

My grandparents are one of those old, very traditional couples where the man is a “macho” and the woman is more submissive to him, and on top of that they are not very fond of changes or new things. And when I told them about this they weren’t happy about it, they told me that I was going to change completely, that I was going to forget my family, my Mexican traditions and even Spanish!

It was a challenge for me and for them to understand my decision; they were mad at me and used to tell my parents to stop me from going on a different path than the rest of my family. But my parents were really supportive and didn’t let my grandpa intervene in my future.

I think it’s been one of the biggest struggles related to my culture because it wasn’t any kind of discrimination or a stranger; the ones who were affecting me where my grandparents!

I understand their concerns, and I get that they have different opinions, but they’re my family! And they were trying to stop me. Later in time, before my grandpa died, my dad told me that he was afraid that no one would talk to me and that he always thought that I was going to be rejected everywhere for being Mexican.

A few months later when I got accepted to college, he was the happiest one; he was telling everyone in the family how I was going to succeed in life and all of that stuff that grandpas usually say about their grandchildren. And it was only the first step, then I started to get good grades and he told me that he was really proud of me and that he was sorry for how he behaved in the past.

Months passed and he became more ill, but that didn’t stop him from being proud of what I achieved.

So if you feel that something or someone is stopping you from what you wanna do just because you’re this or that, don’t let that stop you! Opinions will pass and maybe people will change their ideas, so if you’ve decided to do something… The only thing that I can say is go for it.” – Fandi Zapien, 19 

“My biggest struggle is… my bad english. Even though I was born in the United States, my English is not as fluent as I wish. Most of my life I was in Mexico, but my school was bilingual and had been teaching us English since Kindergarten. When I came to El Paso for college, I was able to understand English, but it was so hard for me to communicate. I felt so tiny in a place where everyone was so good with embracing the language.

Now, my english is not bad. It is easy for me to communicate and express myself. I have an accent, but they have told me that it sounds as if I were from Spain or Italy, is kind of funny, which is kind of funny.” – Ariadne Venegas, 23

 

Chica Poderosa: Emily Hernandez

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In our Chicas Poderosa series, we highlight the stories of chicas and what makes them poderosas! Meet Emily Hernandez, Spring 2016 Editorial Intern. When asked why she’s a chica poderosa, Emily shares:

I am a chica poderosa because I’m proud of my Mexican roots, I’m independent, and I do everything I can to help the Latina community.

I’m a first generation Mexican American and I cannot be more proud. Growing up I had to translate everything for my parents, make doctor appointments for my entire family, and even help my siblings with their homework. Being a first generation and the oldest, I had many responsibilities a normal child didn’t have but those responsibilities and extra work made me the person I am today. I know two languages, I know how to cook and clean, I’m a college senior graduating this May, and I’m independent. Being the brain of the household gave me grit and the motivation to make a difference in Latinas lives.

My advice to Chicas everywhere is to be proud from where you came from, be proud of your body and mind, do not depend on anyone, and never stop dreaming.  You can achieve greatness and so much more if you put your mind to it and never let one failure kill your spirit. This same advice I give to my younger siblings. I know theres times in life when stereotypes makes it difficult to be happy with our looks and brains, but you’ll slowly realize that you are unique and you should never let anyone tell you otherwise. I see this all the time in young chicas and it makes me want to be a big sister for each and everyone of them.

Discrimination: Heard and Stopped

There is nothing that hurts more than being verbally abused or being called on for being different than other people. According to a Pew research poll, Latinos are the 2nd most discriminated against ethnic group.

“When I was in high school, I used to play football. I grew up in a house with all boys, I was the only girl on the team. I was also one of the few Hispanics on the team. I remember trying out and after practice, my coach told me to go back to the ballet classes because he didn’t think a girl could be capable of being on the football team with the other guys,” said Amanda, 19.

Amanda was being discriminated on her gender, thinking that only because she was a girl, she wasn’t capable of doing what boys could do. Even though many people were going against her, she kept her head up and proved him wrong.

“I kept practicing really hard, trained twice as hard, and the day of tryouts I proved him wrong and I made the team. I wasn’t going to let him put me down,” she added.

“When I came to the United States from Mexico, I was the only one from my family to go to college. I was the only one who spoke English, and I was the only one that graduated from high school. I remember one of my first professors in college didn’t pay much attention to me. I had a thick accent and my classmates would always stare at me because I spoke and dressed differently, ” said Stephanie, 23.

“I couldn’t fight my accent, but I studied hard, participated as much as I could, got an A in his class and at the end of the semester, he apologized to me,” she added.

Being the first generation to attend college was not an easy thing for Stephanie to do. Even though she was treated unfairly because of her roots and the language she spoke, but, regardless of her treatment in the class, she proved him wrong — just like Amanda did.

“In middle school I was the girl that dressed funny. I didn’t like the way I dressed either, but I couldn’t help it. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me new clothes every year, or even any clothes. I would usually get the hand me downs from my older siblings and cousins. People would always make fun of me or didn’t want to be seen with me because I didn’t look good. But I didn’t let that stop me. I wore everything I had with pride!  I ignored the people that didn’t like it, and I’ve never been happier, ” said Camila, 16.

An Associated Press-Univision Poll found that 61 percent of people overall said Hispanics face significant discrimination and according to a 2011 study on Child Development, discrimination can cause a great impact mentally and physically on a teenager and even adults. Studies show that adolescents who have recently been discriminated against lose confidence in themselves and lack of motivation.

Whether it’s gender, racial, language, or financial discrimination; it matters and it needs to be heard and stopped.

Say something, speak up, let your voice be heard, and don’t let other people tell you how to be happy. As long as your happy with yourself, nothing else should matter.

#GrowingUpLatina

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Whether we grew up watching “Dora the Explorer” or “El Chavo del Ocho,” there are certain traditions that have shaped who we are today. However, because of all the countries that belong in the Hispanic community, it may seem like each heritage has a different culture. Nevertheless, our cultures have influenced our upbringing and, despite the many countries, Latinas have a lot in common.

Name: Vanessa Barajas

Age: 17

Heritage: Mexican

How has your culture influenced your life as you grow up Latina?

“I grew up with Catholic laws that somewhat shaped who I am. Things like don’t steal, respect your parents, and forgiveness. Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays that show this. For Thanksgiving we say a prayer for what we are thankful for then eat. For Christmas we go crazy. Each child much sing to baby Jesus (a little statue of him) while each of us take turns and swing him side to side in a blanket. We all have maracas and tanneries. Then pray some more.”

 

Name: Stephanie Argote

Age: 18

Heritage: Peruvian

How has your culture influenced your life as you grow up Latina?

“The greatest thing about my Peruvian culture is the music because I love to dance. Even though I love my cultures food, my favorite is ceviche, dancing is the main focus when there are get togethers or reunions. The music could be salsa, merengue, or my favorite artist Group Niche which represents and reminds us of who we are and where we’re from.”

Name: Sarah Thomas

Age: 19

Heritage: Guatemalan and Mexican

How has your culture influenced your life as you grow up Latina?

“Growing up Latina has made me proud to be who I am. Growing up Latina, I grew up Catholic and so being religious kind of gives me something to lean on when I’m having a rough time. I also grew up with having family as my #1. We always went to family parties and get togethers. Even now, my family and I still try to find a time to sit down and eat out on Sundays together. Since my parents are from outside the United States, I know the struggle they had to go through to come here and start from scratch. Thankfully my dad, through hard work and more than a decade without a vacation, now owns his own business. So we’re pretty fortunate to have better luck than others.”

True Story: Confessions of an Ex-Shoplifter

Clothing Fashion - LatinitasWhen I started my freshman year of high school, I began to surround myself with the wrong crowd. It was not until I had a brush with law enforcement that I really learned my lesson and the consequences that came with hanging out with the wrong people. I was not like the majority of the crowd I hung out with because most of my friends saw me as a “nerd” and made it seem as if it was a bad thing. Some of them would even poke fun at the fact that I was doing my work in class. None of this ever convinced me to give up being a “nerd,” but I did allow them to change me in some ways.

I remember thinking that I was having more fun with the girls that always got into trouble and I was not missing out. The fact of the matter is though, that I was. In high school, students that were late to class were directed to the attendance office to receive a detention card for that day. I would often times find myself with these friends of mine in detention because we would go out to eat for lunch, they did not share my urgency to get to class on time, so we would be tardy to class. I wasted my time in detention. I missed getting involved in clubs and extracurricular activities during most of high school, and it is something that I really regret.

A girl I started hanging out with would always talk about stealing clothes from the mall, and one day she took me along with her. I was so nervous. I knew that what she was doing was not right. I gave into peer pressure eventually and ended up shoplifting as well. I think that a part of me did this because I wanted to be “cool” and maybe lose the label of “nerd.” I kept shoplifting until one day a couple of my best friends and I had decided to take a trip to the mall. We made a promise to each other that we were going to stop shoplifting once and for all. We decided it was going to be the last time we would shoplift. It definitely was the last time, but the day did not go as planned because we were caught.

There was an undercover cop inside the store that caught us and escorted us into a store office. In the office, we met a man who began to ask us questions as he emptied out our bags of stolen merchandise. The store managers came into the room my friends and I were in and expressed their anger with us for trying to steal. This man then told us that what we tried to steal was worth more than $100. Therefore, we could not just walk away with a simple fine, but they would have to call the cops on us. As soon as I heard this news, my heart immediately started beating very rapidly because I was so scared.

I quickly began to regret ever befriending the girl that had gotten me into shoplifting. More importantly, I was very angry with myself for falling for peer pressure. I also began to think that nerd is not even a bad word because it just shows you care about your work. I would rather be called a nerd than a criminal any day. Policemen then escorted my friends and I outside the mall in handcuffs at fourteen years old. It was the most embarrassing moment of my entire life, and it made me regret ever even thinking about shoplifting. We then had to spend the night in juvenile hall, and I will never forget that.

I remember sitting in a cell with my friends, and all of us felt as if the world was ending. We all could only imagine the kind of trouble we were in, but we would have rather been getting lectured by our parents then in this very cold cell with no sweater. I felt  claustrophobic because the small cell we were in had a glass wall that made it look like no air was coming in. I kept looking at the clock and watching the hours pass very slowly until it was around one o’clock in the morning, and a guard let us know that we would have to spend the night. My heart sank. She then went on to tell us that we were all going to shower one after the other and change into the uniform. While showering and using the restroom, it is standard that a woman guard watch over you as you do this and she search you at this vulnerable state to make sure that you are not entering the facility with any items. I remember her telling me, “You do not belong here, let this be the last time I see you in here.” I could not imagine having someone watch over me while I showered or used the restroom. I definitely did not ever want to see her again either. After showering, we were then escorted to our personal stalls that had a bed like bench with a thin padding, no pillow, and a thin blanket. I was unable to sleep at all that night. It was very uncomfortable, and the light was on the entire time. I remember thinking, “Wow, what am I doing here. I don’t belong here.”

The next morning we had to eat breakfast at tables with the other girls in the ward. I was unable to bring myself to eat the food, so I just listened in to what the other girls at the tables were talking about. It seemed that a lot of the girls had been there before and were in for much more serious crimes. All of the girls seemed to be confiding in the guard and at one point they all began to bash on their parents. This is something that none of my friends, or I could ever bring ourselves to do. All of us were raised by single mothers who had always treated us right and were very kind.I just wanted to get out of there, and shortly after I did. This moment in my life made me want to change how I made friends. From then on, I have believed in the saying, “Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.” The saying translates into tell me who you are with and I will tell you who you are. This is a great reminder to pick your friends wisely.

Living with Lupus

At age 13, Gabby Castillo sits down once a month with people double, triple her age that are going through what she is going through. She drives with her mother one Saturday of the month from her hometown in Lockhart, Texas to San Antonio to discuss her struggle with Lupus with other members of the Lupus Foundation of America.

Anyone can be diagnosed with Lupus, but 90 percent of the people diagnosed are women, according to the foundation. Gabby is the youngest member of the support group, but she doesn’t let the stories of others discourage her.

Gabby goes to middle school, has crushes on boys, plays sports, and dreams of becoming a doctor or dentist. She makes A’s and B’s in honor classes at Lockhart Junior High School despite the time she must devote to doctor visits, medical exams and surgeries. At the age of 13, she was in the hospital for a week due to surgery on her kidney. She was determined to catch up, so she went to tutoring every day.
She is currently playing volleyball — her favorite sport. She smiles before going on the court and then puts her game face on when the ball is in the air. She is always in the perfect passing position, her eyes are locked on the ball as she anxiously waits to make a pass. Almost every one of her passes goes perfectly to the setter.
“I wanna play volleyball for UT or Texas State,” Gabby said.

She was diagnosed with Lupus last year and battles the symptoms that come with it. Lupus is a chronic auto-immune disease that attacks healthy organs. Unlike other common diseases that weaken immune systems, Lupus makes the immune system strong, so strong it doesn’t know when to stop attacking or what to attack.

“It kinda scared me cause I didn’t know exactly what it was. So for a while I thought I was gonna die. But my mom was like, ‘You’re not gonna die! It’s just a condition you’re gonna have to live with for the rest of your life.’” Gabby said.

She experienced hair loss along her forehead, but Gabby said her confidence wasn’t affected. She simply got bangs to cover her hair loss. If one side of her hair lost more than the other, she’d angle her bangs to cover it.

“Someone who’s young and has a real optimistic outlook on life, it’s not a big of a deal to them. I think it doesn’t hinder them as much,” Evelina Solis, a member of the support group, said.

At the support group meetings, Gabby listens to adults share their stories about Lupus affecting their lives. She wishes there were more kids around her age, but having her best friend there helps her feel comfortable.

“Most of them don’t want to scare Gabby, but I tell them to just get it out. It’s better to know what to expect,” Melanie Castillo, Gabby’s mother, said.
Gabby said the meetings are a little scary, but she’s glad to know she’s not alone.

“Some people have crutches and they have to walk with those now cause their legs or their bones are all messed up. But they told me that was a reaction to the medicine they used,”

This scares Gabby since she loves to play volleyball year-round. She was moved up in her club volleyball team to play with 15-years old girls. She’s 4 feet 11.5 inches- she emphasized the half inch- and plays in the back row as a defensive player, a passer.

After her volleyball games, which end around 7 p.m., she’s energetic, smiling and ready to eat. As Gabby sits in the family car to go home, the Lupus puts a toll on her body.

“I get sore in the car when sitting down and I’m just like, ‘Ugh I’m so sore.’ But my doctor told me that after games I should stretch after every game… It helps a little bit,” Gabby said.
Lupus hasn’t stopped her from succeeding in volleyball but it did stop her from running track. People with Lupus cannot be in the sun for a long time. When she was in the seventh grade, she tried out for track. On the third day of tryouts, she had to go to the hospital. She spent a week there because she had a kidney failure caused by Lupus. Gabby doesn’t believe running caused her kidney failure her mother did, and wouldn’t let her run.

“My mom, since I went to the hospital on the third day, was like, ‘I don’t want you to do track but you can be a manager,” Gabby said.

Gabby seized chance to remain a part of the track program. She has to wear a cap and a lot of sunscreen when outside to avoid getting a rash.

“We’ll [friends] be outside and I’ll get really red. And they’ll be like, ‘Gabby why are you so red?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh I’m flaring.’ I’ll sit down [inside] for about five minutes until I turn pink and then I’ll go back outside,” Gabby said.

The most common side effect of Lupus is fatigue and Gabby feels it every now and then. She takes Vitamin D to help with exhaustion and soreness after every game and practice, and to avoid being lethargic the next day. She said she goes straight to bed after volleyball games so the following day could be better, but some days are still tough for her.

Friday afternoon, the day after her volleyball game, she didn’t have lunch with her friends because she was too tired. She considers these her bad days.

“On my bad days, I don’t want to talk to anyone. I go to the nurse’s office and sleep,” Gabby said.

Gabby continues to dream high when thinking about her future. She wants to go to the University of Texas at Austin or Texas State University. Lupus doesn’t affect her positive mindset and she’s come to accept it and deal with it.

“After a while I got kinda used it. So now, I don’t even know it’s there,” Gabby said.

December 2010

Living With Diabetes

Danielle, age 17, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was three years old. “I felt scared and did not know what to think. I was not aware of what it meant to be diabetic, but I had a feeling I was going to have it for a long time…” she said. Although she did not find it difficult to adjust because she was diagnosed at such an early age, Danielle’s lifestyle does interfere with her daily activities.

“I have to watch what I eat and make sure I am always putting some sort of exercise in my day, even if I do not want to. At school, if I am to take a test, I [have] to test my blood sugar to see if I am able to concentrate only on the test because if my sugar is too high I need to [take] insulin and wait [until] my sugar is back down to take the test. But if my sugar is low I need to go to the nurse and get a snack to bring my sugar back up to the right sugar, so I won’t be falling asleep while I am taking the test.”

Danielle is aware of the complications that can come from not managing her diabetes. “My mom passed away because she did not take care of her diabetes and went into a diabetic coma,” she said. Like her, her sister also suffered from diabetes. “My older sister had a pancreas and kidney transplant. She had kidney failure because of her high blood sugars and she was close to dying so she was put on a transplant list in Phoenix, Arizona. She also got a pancreas as well which is why she is no longer diabetic and is doing much better…”

Blood sugar monitoring is a vital part of treating diabetes and it can save a person’s life. Danielle herself has experienced complications due to unstable blood sugar levels. “I have gone into diabetic reactions [when] my blood sugar goes way too low and I am unconscious. I have gone into DKA [or] diabetic ketoacidosis [when] my blood sugars were way too high and we were not able to get them back down,” Danielle said.

In situations like these she stresses it is important to remain calm. “The thing to know is that you should not panic if your friend is right next to you and faints…find someone who knows what to do…look in their bag, see what sugar you can find… Sugar is the most important thing to get into the body if [glucose] is too low… whatever you do, don’t panic,” Danielle recommended.

She also encourages people who know someone with diabetes to help through positive support by accompanying them to the doctor or to tests. “[Help your] friends out if they need it, give them smart advice and encourage them along the way …” Most importantly, Danielle believes the best way to help a friend with diabetes is to be normal. “Treat them as you do everyone else. Don’t change just because you found out something new about them, unless they need your help.”

As a young girl with diabetes, Danielle says it’s important to be optimistic if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with the disease. “[Don’t] be down and depressed about it because, yes it puts stress on you, but I mean, you’re still living life, if you take care of yourself you will grow old and be able to see you kids, grandkids, and great grandkids grow.”

By Helen Rodriguez

Gaining Acceptance

Acceptance….It is a simple word to understand, but hard to gain. Despite the progress our society has made in recognizing people from various diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, a group that still struggles for acceptance is homosexuals.

As homosexuality is growing within our community, it is still difficult for young Latina lesbians to go around the city and walk with their head held high and show off their gay pride. According to three brave lesbian women, it is the difficult for young Latino homosexuals to come out of the closet and tell their loved ones that they love someone of the same gender.

“It’s not really easy to tell your parents that you’re gay. I mean you really can’t just walk up to them and say ‘Hey mom and dad, how was your day? Oh by the way I’m gay! Alright well I love you!’ It’s really hard,” said Magdalena Sanchez, a high school senior. Despite her worries, Magdalena’s parents were quite understandable when she told them. She felt very fortunate that they did not love her any less.

For some Latina lesbians, their religion becomes an issue for them as well. Maria Portales, a college freshman, feared that she would be kicked out by her church and not be able to worship as she normally did after announcing her romantic interest in other girls.

“I remember the time I ‘came out of the closet’ to my parents. They called my abuela, because she is considered to be the wisest of us all and the one who keeps the faith in tact within the family. When she came to my house, she had some palms and Holy Water with her. She started hitting me with the palms and threw Holy Water at me and yelling ‘Sale el demonio’, (Devil out of that body!),” laughed Maria.

At the time of this incident, Maria had thought that her relationship with her grandma would change, but was wrong. “We both look back at that day and laugh. My abuela has accepted me and has supported me and my lifestyle, as well as my parents. I am very grateful,” added Maria.

“The number of gay Hispanics is increasing rapidly, as well as the questions regarding our loyalty to our faith. We do sometimes fear if the Church or God will punish us because of the choices we have made. However, that day has not come yet! Whatever obstacles we must face, we [the gay community] will face it together with our head held high, and hope that our family, as well as our church leaders will back us no matter what,” said Christina Nevarez, a sophomore college student.

By Claudia Oliva

I Was Adopted

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be adopted? Have you ever wondered how you might react to the news? Would you be angry, sad, happy or confused? Most adopted parents fear the reaction to the news, “You are adopted.”

Elisa Cruz Torres, 18, was only 4 years old when she learned she was adopted. Elisa’s parents decided to keep her informed about the adoption from an early age.

“Even before I understood what being adopted meant,” Torres said. “My parents told me my whole life so I wouldn’t get upset.”

“In the beginning when my husband and I decided to adopt I wanted it to be a closed adoption,” said Deborah Torres, Elisa’s adopted mother. “But when we attended a seminar for parents adopting we listened to stories about the reasons why they had to give up their children one couple’s story opened my eyes.”

According to the U.S. Children’s Bureau, about 125,000 children are adopted in the United States and approximately another 130,000 children are waiting to be adopted annually. Of the children adopted each year, about 19% are Hispanic.

Elisa is Puerto Rican ethnicity through birth, but she also considers herself a Mexican-American. Growing up in a Mexican-American family near the border, she feels connected to her adopted family’s heritage and been raised with the Mexican traditions.

Children given up for adoption tend to learn that their parents were unable to care for the children. Through adoption, they are able to find homes for them. Elisa’s father was stationed out of town and her mother was an alcohol and drug addict. In addition, the child protective services did not want Elisa’s birth mother to care for her.

When Elisa turned one, her birth parents sent a birthday card; however, she has yet to make any other contact since then. “I would not want a relationship with my birth mother, because I love my dad and my mom,” she said.

“They really are not like adoptive parents; they’re my real parents, I’m very thankful to have them.” She considers her adopted parents and brother a close-knit family. She describes her adoptive family as a “normal loving, supportive family.” Her family has been supportive throughout her life and encouraged her to pursue her education. She is now attending New Mexico State University majoring in history and is preparing to becoming a teacher.

“It does not bother me knowing I’m adopted,” said Elisa. “The parents I have now, the family I have now are all I need and want in my life. I’m very happy with how my life turned out.”

For more information on adoption, visit
Childwelfare.gov

By Natalie Hinojos