Stephanie Hamilton-Rubio will be graduating from Boise High School in May of 2017. She was born in Washington State, but has spent the majority of her life in Boise and considers it to be her home. Stephanie hopes to complete her undergraduate studies at Boise State University, and is aspiring to major in anthropology with a minor in Mexican-American studies. Stephanie is Mexican-American and lives in a bicultural household which has inspired her to study other cultures through the lens of her own experiences. After she graduates with a Bachelor’s degree, she hopes to continue on to graduate school, exploring the cultural echoes of the Coca and Huichol tribes in her family’s ancestral village. During her free time, Stephanie enjoys spending time outdoors hiking, kayaking, or backpacking with her family and friends.
Si Se Puede, Si Lo Haremos
Yes We Can, Yes We Will
We are the descendents of a powerful people who have constantly been oppressed in their own land – from when the Spanish bombarded their tribes, to when the Anglo-Saxons pushed them out of their ancient Mexico that extended into today’s U.S. We now continue to deal with the oppression of discrimination and racism living in the U.S. Similar to many of us of Mexican descent, I come from a lineage of immigrants finding refuge in a new country because their native land couldn’t uphold their hopes and dreams to strive for the best. No matter how much they loved their country, disappointingly they couldn’t be offered what they needed to persevere and overcome economic distress or societal shackles. Change couldn’t happen soon enough in their country, so they sought new-found hope in El Norte, the United States. We are children of parents who have sacrificed their cultural pride and identity for us. To have a better life than they did, to go to school and beyond, to become somebody influential- a lawyer, a doctor, an entrepreneur, a social activist, a teacher. Leaders.
My mother immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a 16 year old child, without any of her family to support her. She made the dangerous and daunting journey all by herself alongside strangers. Her journey was horrendous, yet beautiful because of the strength it would give her as she matured. She crawled through filthy, unsanitary gutters in the pitch dark, trekked through the desert for days not knowing when she would taste food or water next, fearfully approached the border hoping she would get a chance at a life of well-being. Her suffering did not end when she arrived to the U.S. Heartbreakingly, she had to endure the cold-bloodedness of racism, astonishing discrimination and stereotypes against Mexicans on top of assimilating into a new homeland with a completely different culture and language than her own.
I was eight when a kid at school asked me if I was born here because I sounded funny when I spoke English. When you speak Spanish at home and go to school to speak English, the languages tend to blend together on your tongue. Later that day, I remember coming home from school, questioning why my classmate had asked me if I was born in the U.S. What made me stand out so much that made him ask me that?
“Mami, un niño en mi clase me pregunto si naci aqui en los Estados Unidos.”
“¿Por que te pregunto eso?”
“Dijo que hablaba el ingles un poquito raro.”
“Mija, van a ver gente que no entienden cómo es ser un Mexicano en este país. No entienden que tus papás vinieron de México, pero tu eres Americana. Como el niño, te van a preguntar si eres de este país, pero siempre acuérdate que tu eres Mexicana-Americana y tienes todo el derecho de estar aquí como los otros niños.”
When someone seeks refuge in another country, and arrive vulnerable to barricaded minds who already have prejudged you and do everything to ostracize you, that person can feel broken. Not many people have to imagine what it would be like going to a completely new country for a better life- but we do, we know. Not many people understand the jab in our hearts when the topic of immigration is brought up- but we see this firsthand every day. We glance at our parents faces, the fatigue in their eyes, the calluses on their hands caused by their laborious jobs they suffer through en los campos picking fruit and vegetables. Yet, their eyes widen when we talk about what we did in school that day, what we’re learning, what achievements we’re making as they say, “Go on Mija(o), espero que estes echandole ganas en la escuela.” This is their dream- we are their dream come true.
Going back to my personal history, my family lives in Boise, Idaho. Boise has been a beautiful city, which has given us many gifts, but it has had its drawbacks. We now live in an all-White neighborhood, we are minorities in our mostly White schools, and outside of Boise, Idaho is a very right-wing, Conservative state. The lack of diversity in our communities has hindered opportunities to see beauty in variations of culture, skin color, and perspectives. As a family, we have to search for diverse communities to involve ourselves in, because if we don’t we will drown in a pool of Whiteness, quickly losing our identities as Mexican-Americans. This is the similar situation for a multitude of Latino families living in a monochromatic community; they don’t have easy access to a Latino culture which slowly dilutes them into the Caucasian majority. This can be troublesome when, as a person of color, your culture is dissipated because you are a minority, which creates a feeling of exclusion in your own country.
These experiences of being an underrepresented minority in Idaho have exposed me to great racism and discrimination over the years including racial slurs and stereotypes, dirty looks and the dehumanizing questioning of my intellect and overall worthiness to be in this country. As I grew up in this achromic environment, I learned broader lessons about life as a woman of color in the U.S. You will constantly feel like you have to prove yourself to everyone around you- not only to men because you are a woman, but to the majority because you are Mexican.
Acts of discrimination that make you second guess our country’s progress might creep up in the smallest of ways, but they are as transparent as any straight forward act of injustice. You can feel it when you enter a stand at a local street fair and all eyes turn to you as you take every step. Another lady approaches the stand, but she has fair skin. She is asked if she needs any help looking for something, she says no, nothing is said to you. All eyes are still on you. You pick up a meditation stone to take a closer look, the glares intensify. Your palms are sticky and your eyes are watering. You don’t want to think that it’s racism, you want to believe in the goodness of people, but sometimes you can’t help but want to cry because you are yet again being targeted because of your skin color. It may not be physical harm, but it sure as hell is heartbreaking to feel the piercing eyes and hateful energy seep into your pores. You don’t want to feel that when your classmates call you a beaner and wetback our country is going backwards. You don’t want to believe that when your friends joke about “dirty Mexicans” working in the fields, being our country’s slaves, that that’s what the majority think of our people.
When you are called a wetback, don’t settle for the slur. Don’t let it sink into your dignity. Respond back with, “Mexicans have swam across rivers, risked their lives to be on this side of the border, don’t you try to dehumanize a struggle you haven’t had to endure.” Dare to stand against the prejudice with vocal comebacks, founding organizations at your schools for Latinos that promote leadership, influencing your siblings dream big and believe that they can achieve their goals.
Rather than having the discrimination drag us down, it can be the arrow being pulled back on a bow, to only be let go and projected forward into the future of bright possibilities. The previously listed drawbacks have given me the chance to advocate for Latinos at my school and in my social groups. I am proudly the first to write in representation of issues regarding racism in the Boise Highlights (my school newspaper), this might correlate to me being one of two people of color on staff. The Boise Highlights would be at a disadvantage if the staff members of color weren’t willing to stand as loud voices for the minorities in our communities. This is relevant in other cases as well, having representatives of color speak to minority rights travels a long way for those communities- it is a powerful act. I have written pieces on immigration reform, the power of educating Latino students, and how the American economy runs on the backs of illegal immigrants. Overall, I have developed a strong shell with a compelling voice for Latinos who are under-represented in Idaho, and who need someone to speak for them- to let the majority know that we are here, we are present, and we are important.
As identified in ‘The Huffington Post,’ Nydia Velazquez is a powerful example of a strong Hispanic leader in the U.S. Velazquez immigrated from Puerto Rico to pursue a Master’s degree and later was the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected into the United States’ Congress. Congruently, a social activist, Cesar Chavez is known for his history with a non-violent, unionized approach to bringing awareness to the struggle of Hispanic farm workers. These two influential leaders are clear examples of how pivotal Latino leaders can be in American politics or social movements. However, we are nowhere near where we should be with equal representation of our people in office, as CEO’s, as Board of Education members, as surgeons.
When we go to school, we are learning, we are persevering not only for ourselves but for all of our families who aren’t able to get an education because of lack of papers or lack of time due to work overload. They have painfully endured the migration al Norte, absorbed the racism peacefully, dealt with discriminatory jobs so that they could support us. Now it is our turn to return the favor by making their dreams come true. When we show up as leaders in our nation we are representing our people who have fought long and hard for this moment, and we are not about to let them down. We are intrepid travelers on a journey of education, leading to a lifetime of opening doors for our own personal growth. We will also open doors for those who follow, just like Supreme Court justice Sotomayor influenced me to believe in my capability of holding a position of importance and power as a Latina.
Becoming leaders will shift the cultural bias against our people. If we are present and active in our local communities with positive leadership, we controvert the stereotypes. It will be a beginning step towards critical thought about our people, leading to further progress for an equal stance in American society. Correspondingly, it is an honor to be a symbol of education and of leadership for our Hispanic communities.
There may be objections, claiming that we don’t need to prove ourselves to the majority to stand as equals. With that in mind, I whole-heartedly agree that in no way, shape, or form does any minority have to make an effort to prove themselves worthy or capable of anything the White man does. In a complementary perspective, I believe in the power of a people that cherishes the value of educating our Hispanic youth. Promoting schooling will motivate us to fight against stereotypes by becoming successful, educated people. We are raising ourselves out of the destruction caused by constant racial oppression and unequal treatment with education to show our own people – not the majority – that we are worthy and capable of achievement just like every other racial group. We are a people of hard-working, dedicated families who exude pride and love for their people. I encourage the youth to use that energy as progressive fuel; taking traditional Latino values, fusing them with modern goals in order to move forward as a whole.
Knowledge is power and our personal freedom. If we spread our knowledge, reinforcing the need for equality and acceptance rather than hate and discrimination, we will distinctly make a difference in the attitudes of our communities, be they White or Hispanic. Through the morass of racism and discrimination, we must prevail. Love always wins. Our culture is rich and strong, and we will use it to take our pride back as Latinos in America. As rising future leaders of the free world, we will show that unity in diversity makes our country stronger. Unity is what will propel our people forward.