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Authentically Latin in Higher Education

New Professionals and Graduate Students
September 22, 2023 Alex Koehler

As one person who makes up the 8% of Latin women with a Master’s degree, I often feel compelled to share my story and do my part to represent the thousands of women who look like me but will never get a voice. Growing up, I often shied away from my heritage; I’m biracial but grew up around the white side of my family in Pennsylvania and, therefore, never felt “Latin enough.” As I’ve gotten older, I have felt more comfortable claiming my “Latin-ness” and realize I have a neat and unique lens that I bring into my work. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up throughout my professional career that have helped me feel comfortable being authentically myself. 

 

  1. No one can tell you how Latin you are. A core memory is watching the 1997 biopic Selena and hearing Selena Quintanilla (Jennifer Lopez) scream, “me siento muy…excited?!” at an interview, and the crowd loves her Spanglish. I’m still working on Spanish, but that doesn’t take away the fact that I’m the daughter of an immigrant. Sign up for that Latin caucus, advise a Latin student organization, or even chat with other Latin & Hispanic colleagues on campus. Your voice (no matter what language) is needed. 

  2. Being Latin is cool. Have you seen what’s trending right now? America Ferrera’s speech in Barbie. “Mexican Street Corn” inspired menu items (it’s called elote, fam!). And the slick back hair I used to get made fun of for having. Own it! Whatever food, clothing, or style makes you feel connected to your heritage, I encourage you to bring it into your work. I have “si se puede” as my computer background, mini (fake) cactus plants, and serape blankets in my office that make me smile every day. 

  3. Representation in educational spaces matters. I remember being in early high school when Sonia Sotomayor began serving on the Supreme Court, and boy was I WOWED. I was even lucky enough to stand face-to-face with her as she walked around the room at the NASPA Annual Convention in Philadelphia a few years later. While I don’t recall everything she said, I do remember her getting back on stage and being amazed at how diverse the room was. It was then that I realized that there might be some student looking at me the same way I was looking up to Justice Sotomayor. We now have AOC, We don’t get a lot of role models in life, but if I impact just one student who looks like me, I’ll call that a win. 

 

Now, I say this and acknowledge that our field is not perfect, and there is much more to be done to elevate and highlight our Latin and Hispanic colleagues. I am lucky enough to be in a space where I feel safe and supported to explore my identities openly at work, and my wish is for everyone to have that level of comfort. I implore you, dear reader, to find your community or to learn more to support a colleague in the office. We should all feel safe to be authentically ourselves, so our students can also feel authentically well in their journeys.