Opinion: Student’s educational journey leads to cultural reflection

By Sienna Hennessy

The part of me that rolls her eyes when someone asks, “Where are you from?” has been humbled by my upcoming move across the country.

I’m moving out east while I finish working toward a bachelor’s degree, and I’ve been nothing but excited about the move since fall.

Now, about two months before I leave California, the fact that I’ll be walking by bodegas instead of carnicerias has finally hit me.

I’m a Mexican-American who barely speaks broken Spanish otherwise known as a no sabo kid, and I haven’t explored my cultural roots very much. I haven’t had to. My inherited culture is embedded into daily life in Los Angeles. 

Latinos are the largest racial and ethnic group in California at 39% of the population, and 30% of them are Mexican according to a 2022 data brief from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute.

In Pennsylvania, where I’m moving, 7.89% of the population is Latino according to Data USA, a comprehensive website and visualization engine of public U.S. Government data.

All the day-to-day interactions that push me to practice the little Spanish I do know will no longer happen. 

To keep what Spanish-speaking ability I have left, I’ll have to intentionally practice.

Instead of just walking by countless murals portraying Latino culture and history in L.A., I’ll have to go to a gallery or museum to see Latino art.

Instead of walking into a party full of Latinos and feeling awkward for not knowing how to dance properly, I’ll probably be the only Latina at most parties. 

I have a hard time conceptualizing what that will be like as the reality of the move inches closer.

I’ve already made connections out east that I hope turn into friendships once I’m out there, so I’m not afraid of being lonely.

The prospect of the move is intimidating because I fear my relationship with my ethnic identity will become more tenuous than it already is as a light-skinned, no sabo kid.

However, I have started thinking of ways I can not only maintain that relationship but that can maybe even strengthen it.

In L.A., I’ve met many people who join local language-exchange clubs to improve their skill with a new language while also finding other people in their cultural group.

I’ve also met many people here from minority ethnic groups who organize and volunteer for cultural events that promote both intracultural and intercultural connections.

I’ve wanted to know what it’s like to live somewhere else for the majority of my life, but I’m so grateful that my diverse home state has role modeled ways for me to maintain my cultural connection at my new home.

I never thought I would volunteer for additional homework on top of required coursework, but I’ll definitely be attending language-exchange clubs and volunteering for Día de los Muertos between classes next fall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *