I’m from a small town called Woodburn, Oregon also known as “Little Mexico.” I grew up with friends who identified with similar backgrounds as mine, Latinx, farmworker households, and low-income. At a very young age I was exposed to environments with people who were similar to me. During pre-k my parents enrolled me into the Head Start Program, this program promotes school readiness for children who come from low-income families. As early as I can remember, I recall most of my friendships being with Latinx children and some of the children in my classroom were even my relatives. The staff was predominantly White, I clearly remember my preschool teacher, she was a white woman and was the sweetest teacher I ever had in Head Start. I recall how she would let us play “fishy” with her amputated arm. I also remember that during my time in Head Start, the majority of my learning was done in English.
When the time came, I enrolled into Nellie Muir Elementary School. Similar to my experience in preschool, the majority of my classmates were also Latinx. However, in this school, there was also a mix of Caucasian and Russian students. During this time, I mostly interacted with Latinx and Caucasian students, I had very few friends that were Russian. The only time I truly interacted with students who identified as Russian was during the summers when my parents would take my siblings and I to the harvest. The owners of the fields were almost always Russians and my siblings and I would play with their children while our parents picked berries. Looking back, most of the parent flyers that were sent home with us were in three languages, Spanish, English, and Russian. The school did a very good job at having signs or information in those three languages. During my 5 years in elementary school I had a racial mix of teachers, some identified as Latinx/Hispanic while others as White. However, almost all of them were bilingual. It’s during this timeframe that I began to learn in both English and Spanish.
This scenario remained the same when I enrolled into middle school and high school. Throughout my educational experience, the majority of those in leadership roles were White. I never met anyone in a leadership role that identified as Latinx. During preschool to High School the majority of my friends still remained Latinx. I had a couple of friends that identified with a different race but I only interacted with them during school hours, such as in the classroom and during lunch. In school and after school hours, I would interact with my Latinx friends during sports, at a friend’s house, or even at parties like quinceñeras.
During college this was a completely different experience. I was one of the very few students from my high school who enrolled in a four-year public university. The majority of my friends attended community college, decided not to enroll into post-secondary education or instead take a year off to work full-time, or care for their families. Me and my best friend decided to enroll into OSU and it was here when I first experienced culture shock. During my first year of college I lived in a residential hall, on my residence floor I was one of four Latinx students. This experience was completely different than the one I experienced during my preschool to High School years. At this institution I realized what it meant to be a minority in a predominantly white institution because I was being exposed to this reality for the first time. It was during this time where I began to not only feel alone but also intimidated. There were very few classmates I could relate too, and it was challenging to make friends outside of my circle. During this time, the majority of my professors were also White. It wasn’t until I declared my minor in Spanish that I connected with a Latinx professor.
It was during my first years in college that I slowly experienced being “woke”. I began to experience and learn about the role that race played in the systemic hierarchical system. I slowly began to reflect on my upbringing and why students like myself were not in spaces like OSU or overall pursuing post-secondary education. My biggest awakening was learning about the history of race and how the United States became a racialized society created to oppress certain populations and communities. Before this time, the concept of race was not something that was pressing, or let alone something that I really took into consideration. However, when I decided to leave my hometown and pursue education I realized that the concept of race was relevant in every conversation, meeting, interaction and even friendships. Race has become so evident in my life, that in most conversations it’s the first thing I must be conscious off.