Reflection given by Senior Alejandra De La Cruz
Hi, my name is Alejandra I am president of the Latinos Unidos club and I was asked to come up here today to talk about my personal experience with being a female Latina here at ESD and in today’s world.
When I first arrived to ESD, I was in the fifth grade, painfully shy, and overwhelmingly self-conscious. I could feel and see how different I was from everyone else on campus. Before coming to ESD, I went to a small school in Oak Cliff, where the majority of the kids looked like me, talked like me, and lived like me. My parents always taught me how important it was to be proud of where I came from, my culture. To be a proud Latina girl. Never had I questioned my pride–until I stepped onto the ESD campus that first day of fifth grade.
I was so afraid that people wouldn’t accept me as a proud Latina girl. So I kept to myself, I talked to almost no one, except for my cousin, and when I did so, it was in Spanish. Every day for the next three years, I went home, dreading school not wanting to return the next day.
It wasn’t until the end of 7th grade and the beginning of 8th grade when I finally found my group of friends, who made my life at ESD a lot easier. The thing about my friends is that not only were they there to listen, but also, they were diverse: in race, in interests, and in backgrounds.
For the first time in my life, I found a group of friends who genuinely cared about one another and, at the same time, respected the various cultures we came from. In fact, we try to invest in and understand our cultural similarities and differences, celebrating them as often as possible.
At times, as a minority here at school, it feels like I’m different, invisible–like no one cares about the same things I do. I’ve come to learn and accept that it’s okay if no one really cares, because you can’t make others care, but the one thing I wish is that ESD, us the students were more accepting of all people, and that individuals in our community could learn how to listen to each other’s voices, ideas, and experiences better.
Today in chapel, many of you might not be listening because my talk has nothing to do with you, and to many of you my talk might not mean much, but for the few who are listening, I want you to know that we all matter: we are all important, we all belong, and we should all be comfortable with speaking ourselves. By speaking ourselves I mean that it’s really important for us as individuals to listen to our inner voices and to resist the pressure to conform and to be just like everyone else. (quote) “No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin color, your gender identity, just speak yourself,” group leader Kim Nam-jun (RM). No matter what separates us, our differences we all belong. Even in a room of 400 kids, as a minority, I’ve found where I fit in.
I want everyone to know that you will find others who are like you–and that is where my story at ESD actually begins.
I struggled a lot here at ESD, questioning not only who I was but also my cultural identity. Sometimes, when my friends and I are too loud, we get looked at in a strange way–but that’s who we are we are: loud and beautiful and proud. My mom, who is a very important role model for me, sent me to ESD not because of the school and its values, but because she knew that ESD could foster the many opportunities that my parents never had while they were growing up.
My being accepted to ESD and my being able to succeed here are things my parents only dreamed of for me, which is why I push through the rough days to finish and accomplish whatever I can–for them and for myself. It hasn’t always been easy, though.
As a Latina, I’ve heard many things that can be really hurtful at times.
You can’t do it; you aren’t good enough.
You can’t speak that language when I’m speaking Spanish; You aren’t even from here
Your parents came over here illegally; Oh you’ll just become another statistic.
And people really do assume such things about me. And not necessarily just here at ESD but outside of this community. When I walk around with my five-year-old brother, they assume he’s my kid. He’s not; he’s my brother. There was also a time that a couple of people in my grade assumed that I wasn’t born in the United States and that I only spoke Spanish because I wouldn’t speak English in the hallways during fifth grade here at ESD; in fact, later on there was a student who asked my friend if i even spoke English while I was sitting right there in front of them all because I refused to move where I was sitting in chapel. I can’t even begin to count how many racist Mexican jokes I have heard just because someone thinks they might be funny. They’re not funny.
If i’m being honest, I did not want to come up here today to speak because I thought, what’s the point of me telling my story if no one cares, if it doesn’t resonate with other people in the upper school? Mrs. Salz told me that even if the majority of students didn’t care or couldn’t relate, that I needed to tell my story. That there was a chance that someone in chapel would be listening to me because for them, I might be a motivation, a voice they need to hear. I know I’m not the only one who struggles with my identity, with my desire to fit in while also celebrating who I am culturally. Over the years, my advisory and my friends have shown me that I am NOT the only one who is different.
We each struggle within ourselves. And we should each use our voices and be heard. During these chapel talks, this is the time when many people like me who are afraid to say anything can say something.
ESD is called by many to be a welcoming community, but are we really welcoming if we can’t actually listen to each other? Are we really a united community–a family–if some people in our community feel like outsiders? So I guess my final question I want to leave you guys with is how can we as a community work together to help everyone feel included and accepted for being themselves?