Latina and Proud

Yo no pinté mis sueños, pinté mi realidad, porque era lo único que tenía o porque era lo único que conocía.   -Frida Kahlo

viva la mujerBY:  FERNANDA MENDOZA

Being a Latina is a title to be proud of. At the age of six, my family and I  immigrated from Mexico to the United States leaving all we knew behind. During our travel, my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and passed away. My mother and I weren’t informed until we reached the United States. The only paternal figure I knew was gone and as a child I did not know how to cope, I was devastated.

Not too long after settling in Galt, California, I enrolled in school; however, it wasn’t the cookie cutter experience shown in the movies. I was almost denied from entering elementary school because I could not speak English.  This was a very painful experience. The way the teacher treated my mother and I by not giving us any options made me feel very small.  My mother, with limited English, understood and took action into her own hands and said, “No, mi hija no va a perder un año por no hablar inglés.” From that moment on, her perseverance and confidence influenced me to stand up for myself as a young Latina.

As my freshmen year of high school approached, I became excited despite still feeling like an outsider. That same year the feeling of hopelessness consumed me once again when my mother was diagnosed with a tumor in her right kidney. I was petrified, scared, with a million things running through my head. I didn’t know what to do. From that moment on, I’ve continuously advocated for the well being of my family. I remember being bullied in high school, my classmates would ridicule my mom for her weight gain and hair loss. Targeted for being Latina made me realize how naïve I was growing up.  I started  questioning why doctors always say, “According to statistics…” or “You just have to eat healthier and work out more,” without looking further to understand what we are going through.  My question was, “Why are you a doctor if the only things you go by are statistics and racial profiles?” Don’t we live in a country of equality, the land of the free and the brave, regardless of race?

Being the oldest of three children carries a great deal of responsibilities including being the first in my family to go to college. Honestly, I didn’t have any plans on attending college. Instead, I wanted to save up money and help my mother in every way possible. My mother explained to me life wasn’t a fairytale and if I wanted something I must go out there and fight for it the way she did. Hearing this from my mom made me break down in tears but also motivated me to pursue a college education, to one day advocate and help those facing similar situations as mine and my mom’s.

Four years have gone by since my mother was diagnosed and I often feel the frustration that any day could be catastrophic. Trying to access information and support for my mom is something I work on every day.  My goal is to one day be able to help those who may not speak English, may have inadequate resources, and provide them with support to let them know they are not alone. I’m not a lucky woman, I am blessed. Having the opportunity to Intern this summer for the Latino Coalition for Healthy California guided me towards my dream of helping others in my community by trying to make them aware of the changes they can start doing now. So why wait? “Paso a pasito!”