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Gender and Ethnicity — an education in intersectionality

Guatemala flag and map

I’ve consistently heard that immigrant families value education above all else. Often times our parents have left behind their countries, their homes and memories, to give their children greater opportunities. Yet, I grew up in a city with a large percentage of Latin American immigrants and I have to say, while the majority of the top 5% of my high school graduating class was comprised of Latinos, there were a greater number of Latino students who were struggling academically, who had given up on going to college, or expecting to go straight to work after graduation.

I was fortunate. I saw my family’s financial situation, I listened to my parents assuring me I needed to go to college, and realized that to get there I would have to find a way to pay for it on my own. This is an incredibly stressful situation, and one which many people don’t have to face. People fortunate enough to be born into families where higher education is also an expectation, but where family members have the knowledge and time to aid them in their search for the right school, through the application process, and financial aid or scholarship applications, don’t have to deal with this degree of stress. Again, I was lucky enough to have stumbled onto the perfect university for me, and that I had the time to dedicate to this search. Other people in my community can’t say the same. Some have to work after school. Some quit school to help pay bills. Some take care of sick or elderly family members. Some find it hard to continue an education after becoming pregnant.

I’ve seen the problems that my community faces, and they can be broken down into four areas: lack of resources, lack of expectations, lack of encouragement and lack of confidence. Many students know their family’s financial situation and assume this means they will be unable to afford school, not knowing that many universities have solid financial aid programs to attract low-income but talented students. Their friends might all be expecting to work right after their high school graduation, and the guidance counselors might not expect them to apply, much less be admitted into, top-tier schools. Their parents, teachers and guidance counselors may talk up community colleges and state schools, even when a student could get into more competitive schools, or dissuade students from taking more academically rigorous courses. Now, realize that when I write “maybe, might, may” what I really mean is that they do — these are all things I’ve witnessed growing up, and they are still happening in my community.

This is not to mention the amount of sexual assault and violence our women endure. Many of our families have long histories of violence against women. Our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and beyond have been beaten, lied to, cheated on, abandoned, manipulated, silenced. This degree of physical and emotional abuse leaves deep scars on our collective psyche. I’ve seen too many young women turn to their partner in search of the love they never had a good model for at home, hoping their lives will be different from that of their family members. Sometimes, they find what they are looking for. Sometimes, however, the tradition of degenerating women continues, stunning our potential growth and limiting our power.

I am proud of where I’ve ended up, and the path I am on. However, the fact that I could make it past all of these obstacles does not take away from their severity. Cases like mine should not be held up in front of communities like mine to shame them, asking “Why can’t you be more like her?” Instead, we should be asking, “Why are there so few able to make it out? What is wrong with a system where access to opportunities is the exception, and not the rule?”

I have found the strongest motivators for successful members of my community are a desire to not only help oneself, but our entire family. We want to be able to support our families. We want to uplift our mothers, value and thank them for this love and support and endurance. We want to aid our sisters, our cousins, our aunts, in their difficult moments. We want to inspire our nieces and nephews and sons and daughters, showing them what is possible. The love and inspiration that emanates from our own community, by our own community members, has set us on a path, long and uncharted as it may be, towards prosperity and fulfillment. Our own community leaders are taking the initiative to return to our communities and speak to students, to friends and younger family members about the possibilities available if only we support each other. I lovingly take part in this movement.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Paulina Lawsin's picture

Your piece is a wonderfully

Your piece is a wonderfully informative read. I love the way you wove your personal story with the bigger community picture. You have also shown that despite the availability of resources in a first world country like the USA, there are still personal barriers that limits the ability of young people to access these resources.

Your last paragraph is moving. It speaks of family orientedness, of the spirit of community that pervades your culture. You are in a priviliged position to recognize your blessings and the responsibility that falls on your shoulders. Your mother, sisters, nieces and all those you wish to reach out are fortunate to have you in their midst.

Continue to write and be involved.


Yessi Writes's picture

Thank you

Thank you so much for your kind words, family is definitely very important for me and my community.


Cali gal Michelle's picture

Yessi- You have a strong

Yessi- You have a strong story that so clearly articulates where you've personally come from, community obstacles, and your Hope for the future. Thank you for this entry. We in the U.S. often forget there are barriers here that many struggle to overcome. I see it so often in my community, and know it is true, that generational patterns are embedded so deeply, like weeds that wind around the beautiful bushes. One must dig deep, yet carefully to get at the root, and it is painful to get it out. But what Hope for the bush, and what beauty comes from such difficult toil.

I fully appreciate that you have posed an important question here: “Why are there so few able to make it out? What is wrong with a system where access to opportunities is the exception, and not the rule?” It is questions like these that need asking, and that promote beneficial conversation here. I would also extend the question to ask: "What initial steps can be taken to begin changing the current system?"

Let us Hope together-
aka: Cali gal


Yessi Writes's picture

Hi Michelle

Hi Michelle, thank you. You are absolutely right, "what steps do we need to take to ensure change" is an important and powerful question. I think we're working on it in our own ways. I love that you point out our eternal hope.

Thanks again,

Tait's picture

Yessi, Your journal entry

Your journal entry sounds similar to my mothers. My mother grew up in America during segregation and her high school guidance counselor told her to apply to the factory. I'm so thankful and grateful that my grandparents knew the value of education and supported her efforts in earning her degree.

I really enjoyed reading your journal entry mainly because you grabbed me from the beginning to the end. In this time I find it interesting that even the internet is not available to everyone. What if everyone had access to education and the internet how much better our communities, and the world would be.

Continue to motivate, empower and mentor the people in your community. I can feel the fight within you, nurture it to continue to support those that look up to you.


Yessi Writes's picture

Thank you for sharing your

Thank you for sharing your mother's story with me, our parents support is sometimes the only motivation and encouragement we get. The internet is indeed a powerful tool, and becoming increasingly important for education. Most of my school work now is on the computer, and more importantly requires access to the internet.

Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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