Whitney & Vanessa

New Orleans, LA

“It’s difficult to own who I am and accept that this space wasn’t made for me, but I’m going to make it my own and be as successful as possible. I look to my family heritage for that inspiration.”

Whitney’s story:

My family is from Trinidad & Tobago. For my mom, it was really important for her kids to be very strong individuals, and then to be proud of their blackness and to kind of be very conscious of our culture and what that means in terms of being one of the few Trinidadians in the area.

Sometimes it means being one of only a few black people, and being proud of who you are and owning it. I went to a majority black high school, but now at Tulane, where I’m doing my undergrad, it is really white and it’s definitely impacted the way that I view myself in this environment and what it means to be here as a role model. It’s difficult to own who I am and accept that this space wasn’t made for me, but I’m going to make it my own and be as successful as possible. I look to my family heritage for that inspiration.

I definitely have been able to be successful academically mainly because I have role models that are women of color. Not specifically Trinidadian, but in general, women of color that have been really, really important to me who I can look up to and feel like they understand why I feel the way that I do or support me in ways that other white people might not necessarily think of. I’m hoping that I can do that for other people, my sisters. They’re younger than me. In general, I want to be a role model for people by showing them that they’re capable of doing whatever they want to do.

Vanessa’s story:

My parents are from Mexico. They’re both from Zacatecas. Well, they’re actually from a small town in the state of Zacatecas. My parents instilled a strong value of family. We’re really close. My parents have four kids. I have two older brothers and everybody lives at home except for me because we’re supposed to stay at home until we get married. They also taught me to have a really strong work ethic. We always grew up speaking Spanish and eating Mexican food in the house.

There’s a pretty large Mexican community here and there’s a really large Central American community. I have two aunts that also live in the neighborhood. For me, it was very confusing before I went to school. Before I went to kindergarten, I felt Mexican because I would only speak in Spanish and be with my family. When I went to public school and I realized that I was totally different than all the other kids in my class, it was the first time that I experienced legitimate culture shock.

It’s interesting the way that people automatically perceive me as Mexican American or the “good immigrant” because I speak English and I’m educated. But as soon as they see my interaction with my parents people assume, “Okay, so your parents are probably illegal,” which is just a problematic word in and of itself. My parents are both uneducated, and we’ve had people say things to us like, “Your parents are the kind of people that are taking our jobs away from Americans.” I don’t know. I’ve had people tell me things like, “Well, I don’t like Mexican people, but you’re okay. You’re not that kind of Mexican.” I also see a lot of eroticizing the idea of Latinas. Just because I can pronounce a word a certain way or because of the color of my skin, people fetishize me. I think that’s a big problem that all women of color kind of experience.


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