Updated: Aug 15, 2020
I am Lila. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I am Latina. I am a Spanish speaker. I am proudly Salvi and Chicana. I am the product of immigration. I am a first generation college student. I am a womxn. My identity is mine, though I am aware that I share some experiences will folx from all walks of life.
I was born and raised in California. Particularly in Orange County, but I have grown up knowing both Orange County and Los Angeles County. Southern California has a very distinctive diverse population. This is what I have grown to know as the world. As I have grown, one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced is understanding that the world in which I have lived in does not reflect everyone else’s world, but I do this as I continue to learn.
Soy Latina. From a young age, in spite of the diverse community in which I have grown up, at times, I’ve felt that people have treated me differently for being Latina. Especially when I was younger, if I would go to a store in a “better” looking, frankly, more white neighborhood, there were times when heads would turn and examine my steps, and I did not see people react the same towards who seemed to fit in better than I in these “better” neighborhoods. In addition, when making appointments, when I have shared my last name, Rodriguez, I felt that the person on the receiving end would become more easily irritable when I asked for clarification or repetition of information, as opposed to interactions where I didn’t mention it. Even so, I feel very blessed to have lived in Southern California. Not every Latinx has experienced so little discomfort in their lives.
I am a Spanish speaker, and similar to other students who learn a foreign language before English, I struggled in school. It wasn't until the 8th grade that I stopped taking ELD (English Language Development) classes. In addition, I was never placed into any Honors or Advanced Placement courses, though I often excelled particularly in English. However, with the encouragement of one teacher my junior year, I took an exam, passed and was placed into an Early College Program for senior year of high school. Because of this, I was placed in the Early College AP English class with folx who had been used to advanced courses all throughout high school. All of the students were scholars, and knew big words that I had never even heard of, and they knew each other very well, and there again, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I was now taking multiple Honors and AP courses that I was not prepared for, and was discouraged that I felt that everyone else seemed smarter than me. It was very difficult for me to adjust to, especially because prior to this, I skipped class a lot and preferred to do other things with friends, but in spite of this difficult transition, I can safely say I was better equipped for the workload of college.
I am Salvi (Salvadorean) and Chicana (Mexican-American). Having parents from different Spanish speaking countries is one of the things I find most fun, because of the differences among both cultures. The vernacular in both countries is different. It may sound trivial, but I have had Mexican friends correct me on my grammar, or who would gasp if I said certain words, because they mean something entirely different in El Salvador than they do in Mexico. It's an interesting feeling, because though there is a strong Latinx presence in Southern California, the majority of Latinxs I have encountered are Mexican. In other places like Texas, Florida, New York, and Arizona, the Latinx community might look different. Nonetheless, I love this piece of my identity because my heritage is twice as beautiful, I get twice as many opinions, celebrations, traditions, foods, and things to be proud about as a Latina.
I am the product of immigration, and also a first generation college student. I was raised with the idea that hard work and dedication leads to success. I can say that this is in part true, but as a person of color, I also know that the color of your skin can determine how hard you have to work to achieve that success. This hard work and dedication is what brought my parents to the U.S., the idea of a better life too. My parents have had to work twice as hard to obtain they gave me and my siblings, given that undocumented people do not have secure health care, jobs, and resources, and I have so much to be grateful for. As a first generation student, I have faced my own challenges. First generation students need to show endurance, because their parents cannot answer all their questions about college or subjects. First generation students might even have to explain more to their parents why they need to stay at school so late, or be involved in clubs. It can be confusing to explain to family things that you are having trouble answering for yourself, and lead to the disillusionment of such participation. It’s certainly something that I faced. First gen students can also struggle in school because they do not always have the financial resources necessary, and might feel the need to have a part-time job, or two, or three to be able to stay in school. I also struggled with this. It’s a very dangerous paradox when you are a full-time student who is trying to manage with 15 units of school work, and 3 part-time jobs, but I was able to merely survive with the values that my parents taught me. The mindset and advice that came from my immigrant parents pushed me through that, which has by far been the greatest, most emotionally and physically strenuous part of my college career thus far.
I am a womxn. As a womxn one of the things that troubled me most, was that I was not easily finding a womxn who was portrayed as strong, successful and outstanding in the media, in books, or in history classes. The only one depiction of this I can say that I remember with certainty, was Mulan, the Disney Princess. This would not seem like an issue, but it became most difficult for me when asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” With no real idea of what I wanted to do at a young age, my silence to this question was followed with “Do you want to be a teacher? A nurse? Or a…” and fill in the blank. These are exceptional careers, but when you prompt this information to a little girl who is making sense of her world, more often than not, type of interaction can begin to limit her horizons. In a country where the white, heterosexual male is the most successful in terms of career, income, and decision making through politics, I think its best to allow girls to be creative and encourage their ideas rather than to try and project your dreams for them. When children see someone they can relate to in the media, or among friends and family being successful, this becomes a tool to empower them to grow and dream big. It will help encourage them to strive for better. In spite of that lack of representation in the media, I have been surrounded by some exceptional womxn, like my beautiful mother, family, friends and as I continue to learn about womxn leaders like Angela Davis and Audre Lord, I have gained confidence to expand my horizons.
These experiences are what have shaped me. Each of them has added value to my identity. My experiences as a Latina, Spanish speaker, Salvi & Chicana, product of immigration, first generation student and womxn, are only a fraction of what creates my sense of self.
In addition, they will not entirely reflect everyone's experiences who might also claim one of these communities as a part of their identity either. Everyone’s experiences and identities are different, but I believe that there is value in listening and learning about others experiences.
There is so much more to an individual than can be discovered through this "tell me about yourself” question that we often face. I think it’s important to take a moment to remember that your identity goes so much beyond this simple question, even if others arent able to see it at first glance.