“Okay, so, how do we want the audience to feel once the assembly is over?”
“Well… I was just thinking that if I were in the audience, I would want to feel proud, and inspired to create change in society.” I respond after some thought. This year, October 15 marked the beginning of a change I could feel stirring inside myself; of course, it also corresponded with the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Last year, I was asked to make my face a shade paler for my school musical when I asked the director what kind of makeup she wanted me to wear. After that jarring request, I suddenly felt acutely aware of everything that made me different from the majority of the student body. I thought hiding my ethnicity would erase these microaggressions; instead, my self-consciousness skyrocketed. Then, I found a social media piece on feminism and racial injustice. I could see my own struggles reflected in the work, and directed myself to other works of writing focused on movements for equality.
I read article after article about representation, immigration, and the struggle for racial equality. Reading about the need for positive representation for young people of color especially resonated with me. I did not need to wait for a prominent social figure to change how I felt about myself; if I couldn’t have somebody to change my mindset, I would have to be the catalyst for change. I enlisted the support of my closest friends to put my plan into action: a safe space for students to discuss diversity, representation, and our cultures.
The first step towards empowerment was to accept myself and foster a love for my ethnicity. With this newfound knowledge, I prepared myself for my club.
During the first meeting, I was unsure about voicing my opinions–how could I ever lead a group of thirteen students? I made a list of topics we would hold discussions on, and came up with a basic structure for the conversations- complete with facts, videos, and questions. Soon, Tuesday lunches became an outlet for me to discover new perspectives and voice my experiences. The club members were just as excited as I was; their hunger for knowledge encouraged me to create opportunities to involve the school, and to become more outspoken despite my previous fear of public speaking. My safe space to talk about the issues I was concerned about had become a reality; the club could discuss everything from cultural appropriation to gentrification and not worry about being wrong.
My new voice was capable and strong. In the classroom, I found myself speaking up more than the usual speak-once-a-class participation routine I had perfected. Teachers told me my voice was valuable. I wanted to change the way people of color were portrayed. I refused to be seen as weak and unable. My goals spurred me on to continue growing and changing, and I stayed motivated for the rest of the year.
October 2016, one of the more stressful months of my first semester, still managed to revive that spark of excitement only my club–dubbed Latino League–could bring. October 15 meant a celebration of my accomplishments, family, and most importantly, myself. I wrote a poem and spent weeks planning my presentation for the entire school. When the day came for Latino League to present, I was close to bursting with nerves–I had not spoken in front of the school, let alone present myself as I was: a girl who was actively working to change herself. I read my poem, and let myself feel all the emotions I had suppressed for so long. The applause I received afterwards was liberating. Even though I had not radically impacted the entire world, my experiences were validated. They were real and palpable; they helped me to grow into myself. I can not break down every wall, but I have to start somewhere.