I graduate in May, and for the past almost 16 years, I have had absolutely spectacular people teach me— gorgeously smart and compassionate people who have shared their life stories and knowledge with me. I would not trade them for the world.
My identity is in part, portions of them. Mrs. Hardesty fostered my love of art. Mrs. Arnaldi and her tarantula encouraged my love for little creatures. Denise Neil nurtured my love for storytelling.
I continue to look up to these women, and I would not change the education they gave me. I am who I am because of these wonderful white women and men, and I love who they have helped me become. Even my speech patterns are like theirs. But when I speak, on occasion, I will get surprised comments such as, “Wow, you speak so nicely for a Hispanic,” as though I was borrowing speech that was not my own. And for the longest time, I questioned if my speech patterns and identity were really mine or an attempt to be like other people because other Hispanic people treated me as if I was trying to be someone I was not. Maybe I was.
My educators, in my mind, were and still are the epitome of exceptional human beings. The kind of people I aspire to be. As I grew up, I sometimes doubted if I would ever be as wonderful as my educators because I was not like them. None of them looked like me or my family. It was significant to me that only white people taught me. I questioned whether that meant they were just better than me and other Latinx people. I now know that is not the case. I know all people are equally important and no ethnicity is more capable of teaching. But it shaped who I have become. At times, I did not want to be “too” Latina. Luckily, I know now that I could never be “too” Latina. This thought was solidified the first time I went to the United States Hispanic American Leadership Conference my sophomore year. I have gone twice now, and at this conference I have heard from plenty of spectacular Latinas. Latinas doing things like running non-profits, being the Surgeon General of the United States, reciting their poetry for the president, and overall, just being crazy amazing. I realized being a Latina was something I needed to celebrate and embrace.
Our world is rapidly changing. Today, Mexican children can watch Disney’s “Coco” and see a main character who might look like us, where the family is like ours too. This is being celebrated all around the country because we are realizing more and more the importance of representation.
This change in the entertainment industry needs to make its way into the classroom. We need representative role models in our schools.
To all my Latinx and other people of color, we need to consider being educators. Our student bodies are growing in gorgeous diversity, and our faculty needs to be representative of this. We need to do this not only for the little kids sitting in classrooms who look and have life experiences like us, but for all the children and young adults and adults who come into the classroom. Having educators of all different ethnic backgrounds will reinforce the truth that we can learn something from all types of people.
Seeking out those roles, in the classroom, in our communities, in our organizations, is the way we can set the example and bring in the future we want to see.
Educators shape our realities and serve as role models, and I have only ever had Latinx role models outside of the classroom. It is time that we have more of them in the classroom as well.
This story first appeared in the March 8, 2018 issue of The Vantage.