Content warning: eating disorders, body dysmorphia
Growing up in a Hispanic household where my parents never reached high school and my older siblings never attended college, I really questioned why I would be any different.
Although this confusion caused me to struggle academically all my life, this began to change at the age of 16 when I realized I wanted to do something that involved helping kids. But my grades were failing, and I started to lose hope of going to college altogether. Then, my dad gave me advice that changed my academic life forever.
He said, “You have five options. The first four options are right in front of you. You have four siblings, all who didn’t attend college or finish high school — each with their own paths and how they’re making it in life.”
Each of my siblings chose to not continue higher education and all had their unique paths, but none that I saw myself having. My dad continued: “Your last option would be breaking that chain. You can make something of yourself mija and go to school, go do something you love and get an education.”
Ever since then, I started putting in more effort to change my grades and my mindset. I began aiming for higher standards for my future like going to a community college, becoming a role model for my younger brother — as well as for my older siblings who are now chasing their dreams — and getting an education.
Being a first-generation Latina student is certainly something I am proud of, but creating this new path alone toward higher education has its challenges. Being low income all of my life as well has resulted in a lack of privileges growing up — and I have had to fight twice as hard compared to the average student. But I knew this was something I wanted.
As I began navigating the world of my academia, it was so foreign to me, and I felt so lost.
Alongside my education, I had dance. Juggling hours of dance classes and rehearsals while maintaining a high GPA was a huge struggle for me. But my parents’ sacrifices to get to the United States have taught me something very valuable: Work hard and be determined.
So I did and will continue to do just that as I take the nontraditional route toward higher education.
Eventually, I graduated with honors from my community college and transferred to UC Berkeley. It was such an amazing accomplishment and only fueled my desire to reach my goals.
Today, I am a declared psychology major with a minor in dance. Along with being a research assistant with Social Science Research Pathways, I am currently involved in a nonprofit advocacy internship called Latino Service Providers, where I serve as a frontline healthcare worker known as a “youth promotor.” I advocate and educate on mental health wellness, facilitate outreach services and create positive change within the Latine community. As a youth promotor, I serve as a pillar for those around me.
While being in this program, I have learned so much about changing my community’s stigmas while also learning about my own internalized battles that stem from the Latine culture.
As a Mexican woman, I have fought many battles with mental health — and being a dancer further fueled these struggles.
I have always had an innate desire to dance and am extremely grateful and privileged to have been given the opportunity to dance in a studio where my passion for dance advanced technically. Through a scholarship I was given, my parents were able to afford the expenses of attending ballet classes.
But what I believed to be my greatest escape became a continuous amount of stress.
At the age of 13, I began to develop self-image insecurities, which led to eating disorder tendencies and eventually body dysmorphia. There was a point where I wanted to quit, but instead, I proved I could do just as well — and even better — without a stereotypical dancer physique.
My mindset for my body is still a constant battle I fight today, but I have gotten better at appreciating the body I have through the treatment of therapy.
Although I never realized it, I have been preparing for my major in psychology my entire life. Through these counseling and therapy sessions, I became enamored with the idea of giving back to the youth who have struggled like I did — especially those who are underprivileged, underrepresented, underserved or of low socioeconomic status.
After my time at UC Berkeley, I plan to attend graduate school and get my Ph.D. in psychology. I intend to work in fighting against the stigmas associated with mental health, as well as work with youth and incorporate dance therapy into my work. These plans will allow me to stay connected with my community and uplift those around me.
Looking back, I am proud of the woman I am today. I also would not have gotten here without the help of those who supported me — like my father, a hard-working man, and my mother, an inspiration in my life. Both have helped shape my journey along with my family and friends who have supported me along the way.
I cannot imagine doing anything else that does not involve chasing my dreams and giving back to those I care about.
My eagerness and determination to change the world in a positive way (along with the inspiration I have gotten from those who support me) has helped me “break the chain” as my father once said.
I now create a new chain as a first-generation Latina student aiming for higher education and goals that I am certain I will accomplish. I hope to inspire those around me to chase their dreams and break the barriers that may be holding them back.
Uplifting others along the way and knowing the value of kindness and determination has gotten me very far — and I know it will help guide you too.