By Lauren Menjivar, VI Form
On Being American, Latina…On Being Me
I am a first-generation American. I am Latina. I am a child of a mother and a father who each came to America for unique reasons. I am Lauren Menjivar.
Being first-generation American is a trait I value dearly, but it also has been a challenge. Because I am the eldest child and a native English speaker, I have acquired a huge responsibility to attend to important matters for myself and my family. At the start of my education, my parents helped me learn the alphabet and count, but as I progressed through school, my parents’ ability to assist me dwindled until they never checked if I completed my work. They fully trusted that I finished each assignment to my best capability. When my younger brother enrolled in school, my parents relied on me to assist him with his homework because I had completed that grade. I have become their “secretaria” in completing paperwork and translating conversations. When my father took the American citizenship test, I was the one to help him study and quiz him on questions. When my mother does the same in three years, I will take on the same role. Whenever the school sent papers for my parents to fill out and sign, I would fill them out. I never complained about it once; in fact, I actually enjoyed filling out forms, and I understood at that point that I was the only person capable of doing it. I learned to handle responsibility, by doing things on my own, and through that I gained independence from my parents.
I hold my Hispanic culture very close to my heart. As a young woman of color, I learned to appreciate this culture; unfortunately, sometimes I feel that this culture does not always love me back. I am criticized by my community for my limited Spanish and for being on the quieter side. Often times, people would jokingly ask if I already have a boyfriend, and if not, then they inform me that I should get one. Although I laugh at these jokes, it hurts me because they do not value what I think is important. My cousins complain that I am too serious, and they suggest that I do something they consider fun, such as clubbing in the middle of the night in Costa Rica. I am frustrated that they place me in a stereotype of Latina women.
I am often studying and learning about different topics of interest. In my free time, I enjoy reading and educating myself on the important issues of the world, yet some of my family members dismiss me for doing so. My cousins roll their eyes because, to them, I know too much about the world. In addition, my aunts repeatedly say I try too hard and should loosen up a bit. They don’t understand how much I value my education about the larger world. I do not want this cultural stereotype to limit what I can or cannot be. I will resist their expectations of me and intend to succeed the way I want to.
Throughout middle school and high school, students have often called me a nerd, and I never took it as an insult. Instead, I embrace it. I am always looking for opportunities where I can thrive and learn the most. It is the reason why I came to St. Mark’s School. I wanted a school where I could grow and develop as a strong-minded woman as well as a student. Although I enjoy learning in school, I also love learning beyond campus. I have traveled to Chile and Spain for cultural excursions, and this year, I will visit Iceland to study its environment. In addition, I have attended conferences, such as the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, to educate myself on social issues and listen to other students’ stories. I took the initiative to apply to private schools and travel to different parts of the world because of my desire to learn and curiosity about the world.
I have looked back at my past, and I am proud of what I have accomplished despite the challenges I have faced. My parents have sacrificed a lot for my education, and I hope I can help to make them proud. I want to continue to study and learn more about myself as I transition to the next step in life.
Lauren Menjivar is a VI Form boarding student from South Bound Brook, NJ. She enjoys reading books, watching Korean shows and listening to music.