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Why I Put Aside My Greatest Fear For A Good Cause

I’m not a wallflower by any means. I’m pretty social and thrive on being a leader as well as being a team player, but hand me a mic and I freeze up.

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There’s no doubt that public speaking is my greatest fear. I’ve never been good at speaking in front of a crowd, no matter the topic, it’s just not my forte. Like I said, I can lead a group, speak in meetings, even give a presentation, but I have stage fright is too real – and I have no idea why. Needless to say, my fear of public speaking has been a huge drawback for me. I’m sure it has cost me in more ways that I can even imagine.

So when I was asked to give a speech to a group of college graduates last month, I was flattered, but also completely scared.

I also knew I couldn’t say no, and here’s why…

I was devastated after the presidential election, and I realized that I had to do something positive for my community or else I’d go on feeling worthless. I made a conscious choice to be proactive and help the Latino community in whatever way I could. My new year’s resolutions definitely did not include “get over fear of public speaking,” but it was to give back and to be of use.

I was informed that I’d be speaking to a group of Latino college students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The group consisted of two Latino organizations: the Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

I was also told that this special graduation ceremony was held because Latinos on campus wanted to recognize the hard work and dedication that our community puts into the University. The ceremony would also be in both English and Spanish to engage the families of graduates who, many of them have not felt connected to the University partly because there may have been a language barrier. But most importantly, they wanted an additional gathering in order to encourage current students to continue working towards graduation and not get discouraged.

Here I was presented with an opportunity that fell in line with contributing a positive change. I couldn’t decline the invitation.

I accepted the challenge and now I had to get to work.

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Writing the speech wasn’t completely difficult. I knew that I wanted to discuss the challenges Latinos face once they become working professionals. The hard part was practicing and reading my speech out loud.

Several people advised me that if I wanted to pull off this speech I would have to practice and practice and practice until I knew each word by heart. I practiced as best as I could, or I should say, as best as my ADD would allow me to. Either way, there was no backing out now.

When I arrived to give my speech, I was told there’d be around 30 people in the room. I thought “that’s not so bad, I can handle that.” Then I saw this…

Araceli Cruz

I was calm until I saw the program, with my picture on it! It really threw me for a loop. The whole thing really felt like a bigger deal at that point. The title of the program was “Si Se Puede!” And that was perfect. It was the encouragement I needed.

Then something extraordinary happened…

I met the students and talked to them briefly before the ceremony. Their cool and composed demeanor really put my nerves at ease.

Frederick Serrano-Jimenez

Each and every one of them were so nice to me. Their stories gave me the strength I needed to get up there and speak.

Then the time finally came. I had to get up there and give my speech. I won’t include my entire speech but here’s some of it, including the part that always made me choke up.

“When I was back in that dark place, living at home, taking for granted that I had a roof over my head, I’d look at pictures of my parents when they worked in the fields. The pain that I was going through was nothing compared to the hardships that my parents experienced as first generation Mexican immigrants in this country. They worked picking strawberries or taking care of other people’s kids. They scrimped and saved, and always had to fight to pay the bills. I was afforded the privilege of working in New York because of them, and I was not about to let them down — or myself.”

You can read the entire thing here.

So how did I do? Not bad, but not great either.

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I tried to make eye contact with the audience while also saying the right words and it was really difficult for me. But the most important thing is that I did it! I didn’t hide or run out of the room.

Looking back now, I didn’t necessarily put my fear aside to accomplish this task. My fear stayed with me the entire time I was at the podium, but I conquered my goal regardless.

My desire to inspire and help others became bigger than my fear of public speaking and I am so grateful that I could see beyond myself.

That’s me and the graduates!

Aside from the stress, I do look forward to doing it again!

READ: This Latina Blamed Her Parents For Her Lack Of Education When She Was A Teen, Now She Is Graduating From UC Berkeley And Thanking Them

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When I Moved Away From My Family For College I Started My Journey Of Becoming An Independent Latina

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When I Moved Away From My Family For College I Started My Journey Of Becoming An Independent Latina

When it came time to choose a college, I wanted to go as far away from home as possible. I love my family, but I knew that I needed to move out if I was ever going to be a truly independent person. Going across the country for school was the best and most frustrating experience of my life up to that point all at once. As a Latina going to college, I learned so much about myself, my family, and my culture that made it all worth it. Here are 20 important lessons from my college years.

1. We’re not in abuela’s kitchen anymore.

Credit: @simply_samantha/Instagram

In Los Angeles, I had access to Cuban food anywhere I wanted. My abuela would make me ropa vieja if I asked, and I could always get lechon and plantains delivered from our favorite restaurant. In Boston, there was no abuela and nowhere that delivered, and my scaredy-cat self certainly wasn’t going to take the subway alone to find what I wanted. Once I had access to a kitchen again, I learned how to make my favorites and more. It helped me feel connected to something familiar while I navigated the newness of college.

2. Community doesn’t just happen.

Credit: @bc_casa/Instagram

The Cuban-American Students’ Association was a godsend once I found it. Here were people who spoke like me, had families like mine, and got Cuban food for meetings. Seeking them out and getting involved with them took work, though, and I joined late in my college career. Had I found them earlier, I might have had a smoother transition to college.

3. Keeping in touch requires patience.

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I talked to my mom, grandma, great grandma, and anyone else who happened to be in the house at the time on a weekly basis. Telling the same stories over again and answering the same questions got old fast, and I had to learn how to be patient. They were trying to figure out this newfound independence as much as I was, and I couldn’t let their concern for every little detail bother me.

4. It also requires boundaries.

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Going to college meant that for the first time, I had way more control over boundaries. It took me a while, but eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to pick up the phone every time someone called – I could protect my time if I needed to and call back later. I also didn’t have to tell them everything, and while I don’t advocate lying to your family or withholding important information, it was nice to know that I wouldn’t get in trouble for staying out late as long as I chose not to share that. I felt less anxious and more in control of my decisions. 

5. Things slip through the cracks too easily if you don’t keep up.

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When my great aunt died, no one told me. We weren’t particularly close, but I was still shocked at the news when my dad casually brought it up one day. Everyone had assumed that someone else had mentioned it. I realized that if I wanted to be kept in the loop, I had to do the work to keep myself in it.

6. Dating is a whole lot easier when you’re far from home.

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Bringing boyfriends to meet my family always made me anxious. In college, I could go out with someone, and nobody would know. It helped me be more adventurous and relaxed. If the date went wrong, I wouldn’t have to retell all the gory details, and if it went well, he didn’t have to meet my parents if he dropped me off at home. I could keep it to myself, grow in the relationship, and then let everyone else in when I was ready.

7. I had to make my own decisions.

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Before college, it felt like I rarely made decisions on my own. I constantly had a committee of people around me to help me decide on everything from what to wear to which classes to take, and I had a weird fear of disappointing people by making the wrong choice. Sometimes I had college friends around to help, but sometimes, I was on my own, and it was paralyzing. Without people around to constantly validate my actions, I had to learn to trust myself more.

8. You always need some structure.

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After spending what felt like every Saturday cleaning the house and constantly operating on my family’s schedule, I loved the idea of having complete control over my own routines — which meant that for a long time, I didn’t have them. My “No parents! No rules!” attitude meant that I regularly slept with unfolded laundry at the foot of my bed and had a hard time remembering to take the trash out. My poor, poor roommate! Eventually, I knew I needed some structure, but I created it on my own terms.

9. Life requires some fearlessness.

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Growing up, I was always warned about the bad things that would happen if I went anywhere alone. “Sin chaperona, no!” was a common refrain. But in college, I learned how to be a little more fearless. I could take the subway by myself if I paid attention to my surroundings. I went to Italy for spring break — sin chaperona. Realizing I was capable of doing these “scary” things boosted my confidence and made me feel truly independent.

10. Being alone sometimes is a good thing.

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With three younger cousins, a little sister, and countless tias, tios, and people who were somehow related to me even if I didn’t know how time alone was scarce. I loved the noise – usually. College gave me my first opportunity to really spend time alone. Sometimes I enjoyed the quiet, and sometimes I made a beeline for the dining hall to just be around noise. Over time, I learned to really appreciate long stretches of time on my own more.

11. When it comes to language, “use it or lose it” is right.

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I went from speaking Spanish almost daily to almost never, and I lost so much vocabulary so quickly that I worried I’d lose it all. To me, speaking Spanish is a huge part of how I personally express my identity as a Latina, and the thought of losing that ability freaked me out. I spoke Spanish to everyone I possibly could and listened to a lot more Spanish-language music than ever before to make up for it. 

12. Being Latina was a bigger part of my identity than I realized.

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You know that bad joke about how vegans will always tell you they’re vegan as quickly as possible in a conversation? That was me, except I told everyone I was Cuban. Ev-er-y-one. It made me feel special and interesting, and as a freshman in a small New England college who walked in without a single friend, I craved those feelings. But I was also extremely proud to be a little bit different, and I realized just how much I loved my culture when I moved away from it.

13. Apparently, being Latina is “trendy.”

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Here’s the thing about being different: You also start to feel a little like an oddity. Most people asked questions about being Cuban that led to really great conversations, but some made me feel like I was on display. All things Cuban had been trendy for a few years, and sometimes it seemed like I was one of those things.

14. There are a lot of misconceptions about Latinidad out there.

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I found myself making a lot of corrections and introducing seemingly new perspectives in many of my conversations. No, Cuban food is not spicy, and no, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are not “heroes” to all of us. People were shocked at the new information, and I was shocked at some of the broad generalizations I bumped into. I’d never assume that all food from all English-speaking countries was the same – so why did some people seem to think that Cuban was just another way to say Mexican?

15. Other parents had been as strict as mine.

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Trading stories with other Latinas about our childhoods was an amazing experience. You mean your mom called required phone calls home every hour on the hour when you were out, too? And you weren’t allowed to sleep over at certain people’s houses? My childhood wasn’t so strange, after all.

16. Other families were so similar to mine.

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Come to think of it, our entire families felt similar. From Nochebuena festivities and chismosa older family members to Vick’s as a cure-all and countless requests to “ponte un sueter,” I was amazed at how alike Cuban families from all over the country really were.

17. There was a lot about my culture that I didn’t know.

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Similar as we were, there was so much I didn’t know about what it meant to be Cuban. Other Cuban-American students used all kinds of slang I had never heard before, and when I said I had no idea what “El Burrito Sabanero” was, you could hear the gasps from down the hall. There was a lot to catch up on, and while I was happy to dive in, sometimes my lack of knowledge made me feel like a fake Latina.

18. Therapy is not a bad thing.

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It’s no secret that mental health in the Latinx community needs more attention, and because it’s never really discussed, it took me two and a half years before I took advantage of the free, on-campus counseling offered. I didn’t have to tell anyone I was going, which was one less thing to worry about, and it was a relief to have a way to talk about some issues I’d always wanted to address but didn’t really know how.

19. And I learned to handle stress.

Credit: @latinxtherapy/Instagram

Stress was the biggest issue for me to figure out. I had always been an incredibly anxious person, and everything seemed to have the potential to stress me out and totally ruin my day. I was on my own in college, and I needed to learn how to swim before I sank. It’s an ongoing process, but since going to therapy and really working to find a solution, I’m getting there

20. Now that I felt I had truly grown up, anything was possible.

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I know my family cares about me, and all of their questions, restrictions, and concern really do come from a place of genuine care. But going away to Boston for college – a time meant for learning, growing, and exploration – was the best thing I could have done for myself. It allowed me to grow and make mistakes away from watchful eyes and make decisions that were truly my own, rather than decisions made out of fear of disappointing people. It helped me grow into a more independent person who felt confident and knew she could be a capable adult, and it was totally worth the lack of Cuban food to get there.


Read: Get It, Ma! These Are The Latina Artists Nominated For The 2019 Grammys

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She Struggled To Pay For College Because She Was Undocumented, So This Latina Created An App To Make The Process Easier For The Next Generation

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She Struggled To Pay For College Because She Was Undocumented, So This Latina Created An App To Make The Process Easier For The Next Generation

A college degree is increasingly essential to a successful future but the cost is more expensive than ever. It’s even more costly for students who don’t qualify for FAFSA due to their undocumented status.

That’s the problem Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca faced when she first pursued financial assistance.

Realizing she was denied financial aid because she was undocumented the young Latina looked for help. “I asked my counselor for guidance on other options to finance my college education and she said that people like me didn’t go to college,” Espinoza Salamanca explained to Forbes.

In order to get FAFSA assistance, applicants need a Social Security number. Unfortunately, this disqualifies the 3.6 Million DREAMers under the Obama Administration’s DACA policy.

“It took me a while to realize that I was probably not the only one in this situation and that is when the initial idea of ‘one day somehow I’m going to have to fix this problem,’” Espinoza Salamanca explained. Motivated, the Latina sought to turn her fledgling idea into a tool to benefit students like herself.

In 2014, Espinoza Salamanca submitted her idea — the DREAMers Roadmap app — to the Voto Latino’s Innovator Challenge. The app links undocumented students to scholarships that don’t require proof of citizenship.

The idea was such a success. Espinoza Salamanca won the Innovator Challenge in 2015 and secured $100,000 to re-invest in the app.

The DREAMers Roadmap app has helped over 20,000 students since it’s creation.

While building the app, Espinoza Salamanca found a common concern among students. The fear of government agencies learning about their status kept many from asking for help. So, in addition to offering financial aid, the app offers users a guarantee of privacy.

“One of the ways we protect our users is by only asking them for an email to create an account and not asking them for any personal information,” Espinoza Salamanca reassured of the app’s discretion. “We also created a feature called ‘Explore’ which allows any user to see all of our scholarships without having to create an account.”

With new financial options for these students, comes new possibilities. Espinoza Salamanca hopes to help facilitate even more college enrollment for members of the Latinidad.

“We as a country, we are losing so much talent and potential by making it so hard to educate these students.” Espinoza Salamanca continued, “We make it nearly impossible for these kids to have an opportunity to be an essential part of this country. This is our home too.”

If you’re interested in downloading the DREAMers Roadmap, you can do so for free! It’s now available for both Google Play and the iPhone app store.


READ: If Catalina Cruz Wins In November, She’ll Be New York State’s First Dreamer To Be Elected To Office

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