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Power to Mi Gente

By Ashley Salazar

Back in January my cousin asked for help on her high school project, and all I needed to do was answer three questions. 

I opened up the document and read the first question: “Have you ever been discriminated against? If so how did that make you feel?” 

I leaned back in my chair as I had a “I did not sign up for this” moment, yet my mind searched for those memories, some fresher than I would’ve liked. Well, I thought, should I talk about the time a traffic stop somehow turned into an illegal K9 search with 3 white cops surrounding 2 Mexicans in the middle of the night? Because that happened to me.

Or how about the time that my 4th grade teacher insisted I needed to take English as a Secondary Language (ESL) class because of the way I had trouble pronouncing Rs in words? She continued to express this, even after I told her I was placed out of ESL classes in kindergarten 3 years prior by the actual ESL teacher, who had told me I was doing a great job and didn’t need to dedicate extra class time to it. 

The second question was, “What would you consider to be the benefits and downfalls of growing up Hispanic while living in the United States?” 

It’s a shame that this question isn’t an uncommon one, or that I didn’t have to think too hard about both components, because that indicates there are clear reasons and realities set in place that would make being Mexican, or any minority, a burden. I could jokingly write about the benefit of having flavor in my foods, but it is hurtful to think that the part of my identity that I cherish the most can be seen as a downfall, and that I live in a system that uses it against me and mi gente. 

Growing up, my parents taught me the value in education, as they had to experience firsthand what it’s like to have to give it up. I am so thankful for them for teaching me this, and for continuing to support me throughout my school career, even when they couldn’t understand the stress of applying to college, and then having to leave home to attend it. Through Our Turn, I have further realized that the education I have worked so hard to receive is still a privilege. 

When I crossed the stage 2 years ago it signaled the beginning for me, but too many others, some whom were classmates of mine from elementary school, were being abandoned that day by the system they dedicated years to. In our direct work with Our Turn in North Carolina, we are addressing the fact that so many members of our youth who identify as minorities and non-citizens are being deprived of the opportunity of going to college and achieve their own versions of the American dream. My peers are held back from reaching their full potential over the financial burden of being seen as a non-resident of the place they’ve called home for years. This inequity is just one of the many downfalls on the list I made that night, and one that shouldn’t exist.

After much thought, I got to the third question and, to my surprise, I was actually excited to answer it: “As a minority, how have you influenced your community?” 

Well, I thought, should I talk about the time I marched alongside dozens of other dreamers in front of the NC governor’s office to stand up for in-state tuition being granted to undocumented students? Or how about the time my peers and I met with several state legislatures to share our experiences, and then gained their support for the necessary change within our education systems? I was able to go on and on about the meaningful actions I’ve been a part of even in the two short years since I’ve joined Our Turn. Knowing that a pathway exists to right the wrongs that too many have turned a blind eye to further drives me to educate myself and others of the injustices taking place in our communities, and mobilize together to take action - whether it be for ourselves, our peers and family, or for those that come after us. 

 

As I become closer with my own identity - a student, Mexicana, daughter, sister, leader - and continue to share my truth in moments like these, it becomes clearer to me that this is our turn to make a change. 

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