There had always been hints of it. But it was in the spring of my ninth grade year that I came to understand that the ideas some people had about what being a Latina might mean could actually impact my life.
As my high school guidance counselor assessed me for the first time to get me registered for sophomore year classes (an eight grade guidance counselor had done the same for my high school classes and so it wasn’t until now, the spring of ninth grade, that we had met), it wasn’t my perfect grades or happy disposition that he was struck by. It was that I was Puerto Rican. And he had an idea of what being Puerto Rican meant.
“I think we need to be a little more practical,” he said to me from across the desk, after eyeballing the Honors classes I had put on my list.
He pulled out the list of classes our award-winning vocational department offered, and something in my mind clicked. I had no problem with taking vocational classes- my mom had enrolled me in a night school typing class when I was in sixth grade and I knew how important practical and trade skills were, but I also knew that the mostly vocational course load he was changing me to would never get me into the University of Virginia. And UVA is where I wanted to go. But he didn’t ask that.
When he was done, he looked up at me, nodded and returned to the papers on his desk. I showed myself out, red face revealing my shock.
I knew what had just happened wasn’t right, but I also knew I wasn’t supposed to question adults. Walking out of that office, the possibilities in my world shifted smaller.
Just as I was about to step back into that hallway of teenage energy, another guidance counselor saw me and my crumpled face.
“Are you okay?” He pulled me into his office and sat patiently behind his desk, waiting for me to find words.
I paused, keenly aware that what I said in that moment would betray either the guidance counselor who had just redone my schedule or me. The good girl in me wanted to say nothing. The survivor in me wanted to spill it all. I chose to be true to me.
A few years later, my new guidance counselor was daring me to apply schools I had never heard of, to see what options were out there for me. I never applied to UVA; I am not sure if my conviction wasn’t fully restored after that conversation with my first guidance counselor or if my dreams shifted but that doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that someone showed me at a critical time that I did not have to settle for what someone else thought my capability was. It was my opinion, my dreams, my hard work that mattered most.
You know that movie Sliding Doors where it shows just how different life can be if you miss the train? I sometimes think about that hallway as my own sliding doors. What would my life have been like if Mr. Grubbs had not passed me right when he did? What would my life be like if I had already recomposed my face, as we do after stings and losses so we can keep moving our feet forward and not crumple at our losses, before he saw me?
In 2008, a group of compassionate women with a fiery sense of justice conceived Circle de Luz in order to take on the issues of resource equity and empowerment in our community. Since then, that circle has grown to 200 women committed to this cause and we have worked tirelessly to radically empower young Latinas by supporting their transformation through extensive mentoring, holistic programming and scholarship funds for further education.
We do this work because we know that when women are empowered, it is not insular. Entire communities change. And we want our community, our world to be strong, vital, positive, and healthy.
This April, the Circle de Luz hijas and many of us who support them will take part in Run Big Dream Big V, a 5k race that shows them tangibly that they can set a goal, train for it, and achieve it, and it shows them emotionally that they are the driving force behind their achievements. Other people might support them, but it is their amazing will that drives them to the finish line.
We hope it’s a lesson that stays with them for life, when people doubt what they can do because they are women or young or Latina, so that they never doubt themselves or keep quiet about their dreams.
With each Circle de Luz hija, we are teaching them to find their voice and use it in a way that matters and, today, I want to invite you to help us continue to do that work by making a donation to our Run Big Dream Big fundraising efforts. Every dollar from this fundraiser will go to supporting the amazing programs we put on for our hijas- over 60 this year.
Together, we can empower these amazing young women to be true to themselves.