As a child, I attended seven (7) different elementary schools before “settling down.” My parents’ journey to provide the best for us involved a few moves, but I had a beautiful childhood filled with love and life-experience lessons on resilience.
Some of these lessons involved always being “the new kid” or the “different” one, with the basis for my difference often changing. I was the only Spanish-speaking child, the only English-speaking kid, the only American or the only Latina, amongst kids that were either predominantly white, predominantly black, or exclusively Puerto Rican. I experienced kindness, meanness and varying degrees of separateness from environments that might surprise us.
Feeling like an outsider prompted me to later focus on developing my written and oral communication skills, long after I stopped feeling separate. I made it a goal to excel amongst my peers and to stand out for how well I spoke and how well I wrote – not because I was different, but because I was damn good at it. I stopped seeing myself as any more different than anybody else, except in my ability to set myself apart academically, which I did. I had no time and nothing to gain by focusing on what others might assume about me. I’ve carried this mentality throughout my life.
As Latinas, as people of color or as members of whichever group we feel a part of, we can find ourselves in a place where we don’t feel included or where it’s even hard to be seen or valued. And sometimes supporting “our people” can lead to separateness and feeling we need to succeed on our own or amongst our own, apart from the rest, to succeed at all. Whether we leave that environment or find a way to succeed within it, our success is not separate or by a separate standard. We are still succeeding amongst all our peers.
So while I’m always rooting for my fellow Latinas and feel pride when “we” achieve, I identify even more broadly with people who, like myself, have been the new kid, have been or felt different, and have chosen to see that we are all different in our own unique way. It’s that shared difference that brings us closer together.
We all have a story of being different. What’s yours?