As a Dominican woman from Washington Heights in New York City, my identity has influenced my goals, plans and choices.
My grandparents and parents came to the U.S. to create a better life for themselves and their families and live the American dream. Because of the lessons I learned from my mother and grandmother, I stand before the world as a proud, loud, strong, hardworking, family-oriented Dominican American woman – and I want to empower others who come from similar backgrounds to do the same.
My mother and grandmother served as my role models growing up. They are both incredibly strong, independent women, who always do what’s best for their families. They taught me this is what being a Dominican woman is all about. By choosing to settle in Washington Heights, a primarily Dominican neighborhood, they made sure I was further exposed to the food, music and sense of family that define our culture.
Although we had a strong support system in one another and our community, one of the biggest struggles my family had in coming to the U.S. was learning English. Luckily, many of the children in my family were able to enroll in a school that provided English as a Second Language (ESL) education. Most of my classmates were low-income and non-native English speakers as well. Looking back, I know that access to this support was crucial for me. It was also a major factor in my decision to major in English and become TESOL certified (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
I want to help children who face the same challenges I did. After graduation, I plan to do just this. I hope to use my own story to inspire students who are struggling and show them what is possible for their futures. If we work to ensure all students receive a quality education, the entire community will benefit.
With this in mind, I attended Teach For America’s Latino Leadership Summit in New York City last month, alongside 38 students representing different colleges and universities across the region. We shared our stories and discussed the strength that exists among our communities. We spoke about the influence that we have as Latino leaders and the importance of students being able to relate to teachers and other leaders of their communities. Most importantly, we talked about all this in the context of a crisis in Latino education. College completion rates among Latinos are the lowest of any group— just 14.5 percent of Latino students earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25.
Walking away from that summit, I feel fired up about fighting these inequities facing my community. Most importantly, after meeting my fellow summit participants, I know I am not alone. As a student, I myself was taught by many TFA corps members and alumni and am grateful for their dedication to my classmates and me. When I apply to TFA, I’ll be continuing their legacy. As a teacher, I’ll get the chance to empower children and families in my community. I can’t wait.