This week we have a special submission to Mind the Gender Gap. We will be featuring a piece on racial inequality. It is important, as we fight the social injustice that is important to us, to remember all areas of social injustice. I encourage you to read the below passage with the same inspiration that you have read our other submissions with. Together we can all make a change.
My name is Natalie Mhia. Natalie meaning, “Christmas Day”, but to my parents its an overplayed Julio Iglesias song. Mhia, my middle name, means, “beloved” in English, but was given to me for its Spanish meaning translated to “mine” because I will forever be my parents only daughter in my family’s sea of hijos, hermanos, tios, primos, and abuelos. From afar, you may presume that I am just another Caucasian brunette girl. What you don’t see is that I am a first generation Latina college student, daughter of two beautiful and courageous individuals who set off to a distant land from their home country of Argentina in hopes of providing a better future for their three children. From a glance, you don’t know that my nurturing mother and my charismatic father work from eight in the morning to five o’clock at night and that their work doesn’t stop once they leave the office. After a homecooked meal shared together, they’d start working once again, from nine at night until one in the morning. My parents are the most giving people and they have always ensured we had a roof over our head, presents under the Christmas tree, and warm, home-cooked meals. From afar, you don’t know that I am an aspiring first generation college student and young woman, pursuing a career in the human services field in order to work with underprivileged Latino children who may too be facing the struggle of growing up in a country whose history was founded on the oppression of people of color. Yo soy una Latina.
I grew up in Marin County and currently live in Rohnert Park where I am pursuing my college education at Sonoma State University. I love Marin County; the rolling hills, the beautiful sunsets overlooking the Golden Gate, and the endless trails to get lost on. However, as I became immersed in my education at SSU, my mind has opened to the vastness of diversity that exists. As of July 2015, the United States Census reported that Marin County has a demographic of 85% white, in comparison to 16% latinos. This astonishing 69% difference contributes to many latinos, like myself, feeling oppressed, unwelcome, and even ostracized. While attending private school for twelve years, I was a victim of racial prejudice, although I may appear to be “white”. There have been countless times where I get stared at for speaking Spanish. I have had strangers, classmates, and even teachers ask me, “How are you speaking spanish so well? You are a white girl!”. In first grade, I was scolded for trying to help my fellow classmate, who was also Latino, since his English wasn’t as advanced. As I spoke to him in our native language, the teacher pointed her finger at me and said, “Nuh uh, Natalie. We are at school, not home. You must speak English here. Spanish is not allowed in this classroom.” In that instant, the innocent seven year old me was taught that my identity as a young girl of color was not something to parade. From that very moment, I began to feel ashamed of my culture and tried burying that identity deep inside. Meanwhile, I embraced my Americanized self, who was brought up in a predominantly white school. But still, yo soy Latina.
I am Elena, a student attending public high school in Marin County. I am a victim of racial prejudice as others see the color of my skin and automatically associate me with being of lesser value. In a school with 932 students, I am just one of the 225 latinos where whites make up the largest segment of the student body at 62%. Back when I was a freshman, “race wars” came into play. Fights between latinos and blacks against the whites were all too common in-between periods, after school, and in the locker rooms. Although the administration strived to step in and put an end to the madness, the violence never ended. Simple cultural differences were responsible for several hospitalizations, and a massive wave of fear and panic hit the students of color as we worried, “Am I going to be next?”. I felt helpless. The teachers were failing at stopping the attacks, so what was the point? What if I became the next victim for trying to end it? So I didn’t. I watched with my mixed friend group; a bystander in the halls as my fellow brothers and sisters of color were brutally oppressed. Looking back, I feel as if I was the greatest bully; although I didn’t take part in any action, I didn’t do anything to protect anyone. I just watched from afar, as I ate my sandwich, and thanked God that I wasn’t the one being bullied. I graduated without making a change in the student body and that is something that I hate. Why must students of color fight against their heritage in order to be accepted by the 62% m ajority? All the struggles that my padres underwent when coming to the U.S. from Peru, were often forgotten about. But why was this something to be ashamed of? Why is this something to keep hidden? My tan skin was and still continues to be judged negatively because yo soy Latina.
I am Marta, part of the 450 Latinos in a massive ocean of 7,000 students attending a university in Washington. Because of this outrageous proportion, I find comfort in a Latin American club I belong to called La Raza. With the recent election, I can feel the immense tension that walks our school campus, especially when it comes to one’s ethnicity. From Anti-Muslim speakers being brought to campus to the Trump flags waving outside dorm rooms, it is easy to see why I feel unwelcome. The three years I have been here, I have realized that “Mexicans” seem to be a popular Halloween costume and when Cinco de Mayo rolls around, kids will be out wearing sombreros and drawn-on mustaches. Sometimes I wonder if my friends of color at other campuses have also had times where they feel like they are being looked down on by the rest of the community. I have felt the negative stigma of racial discrimination while participating in La Raza events, where we honor our culture. We are known and stereotyped as that “Mexican club”, but other students don’t know that my club strives to bring more understanding and awareness to all Latin American cultures. Conversations about race can be difficult for both parties, but it’s necessary in order to stop future racism and to create an understanding environment, especially on a college campus. I also noticed that people filter themselves when talking to members of La Raza. Why? Are you going to say something offensive to me and my culture? If so, why do you allow yourself to speak like that in other situations? It is sad to say, but I get embarrassed when I mention that I belong to this club; I’m not embarrassed of who I am or what I stand for, but I am embarrassed because of the lack of support my peers give me. I can’t do anything to change the opinions of other people, especially on my own. It is extremely frustrating how people can judge a certain group of individuals because of differences in ideologies. I question why people have to critique my culture or who I am when they know little to nothing about me. This is a day by day problem and too massive for me to take on alone. The prejudice I feel here is real and I know that I am not the only one in the country who feels as if they are being attacked because soy Latina.
Being Latina is something that I, as well as many individuals, should be proud of. However, from the many experiences shared, one can understand why this aspect of our identity is often shamed and hidden. To be completely honest, I wasn’t always such a strong and passionate Latina. There have been times where I have been too embarrassed to speak to my parents in public, and would even pretend to have a more “Americanized” accent while speaking my in Spanish class. Our society, especially now, isn’t too fond of the idea of having “bad hombres” roaming the streets, but that is where my fire is fueled. I am a first generation Latina student living in the United States with goals and aspirations as high or higher than my fellow peers. I have an outstanding academic performance while being involved in an amazing internship as a Mental Health Ambassador, helping the students at Sonoma State. I don’t find being an individual of color detrimental at all, and it cannot make a person “good” or “bad”. I am bilingual in both Spanish and English, which enables me to communicate with a broader group of people. In my future career, I will help a wider audience and community and therefore make a more extensive impact wherever I end up. Being Latina in the United States enables me to teach my future children the traditions and customs that I was raised with, exposing them to a more diverse culture. I am part of a beautiful union of Latinos, all dreamers and doers, who share a common story. However, being stepped on in a country built on the ideals of freedom, opportunity, and equality can be deterring. Racial prejudice is real; it is here. Use your voice and stand up for your fellow community. I am proud of my culture, for it connects me to my past loved ones. I am proud to be Latina and it is time that more people feel the same way. In the end, somos Latinos, ahora y para siempre.
This piece was written by Natalie. Natalie is a Mental Health Ambassador with Counseling and Psychological Services at Sonoma State Univeristy. She wishes to use her voice to help people of all races be heard. Join Natalie in speaking up in support of this cause.