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March 1, 2015
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Sí, Se Puede

‘Yes, we can’ dance between two cultures

(page 1 of 3)

As the only Caucasian in this particular Teton High School classroom, Rose Hendricks, the new teacher, stood out. Upon first glance, one might assume it was a class for Learning English Proficiency (LEP); after all, students ranged from recent immigrants to first-generation Americans.

But it was quite the opposite. The twenty-five high achieving Hispanic students in the room had been recommended by their English teachers to participate in Literature and Leadership, a course focusing on these three questions: Who am I? Who have I been? Who will I become?
These are the questions an emerging group of Hispanic student leaders are asking themselves and their peers at Teton High School. The challenges in answering the questions run deeper for Hispanic youth than for most high school students.

My name is Obdulia Zulema Montenegro Lazalde, otherwise known as Lulu. I was born in the United States and I am of Hispanic descent. American. Mexican. Mexican-American. Chicana. Call it however you want, but that is how society categorizes me.

Society, the community built by a high school or a valley, is where students find some of their greatest barriers. Stereotypes and assumptions can create both personal walls and external blocks to success. Through the writing process in Hendricks’ class, students expressed fears about legal issues, financial constraints, and personal safety. For some of them, these are the excuses for giving up before even trying. For others, they are motivating factors—a call to action.

Do people care that I want to succeed in life, or do they see me as just another statistic of failure?

Lulu Montenegro is known as a leader at Teton High School. She has the look, the poise, the friends. But as Lulu stood in front of her peers, reading her speech for the Hispanic Youth Symposium, something much more than the problems of popularity was exposed. This was not a typical teen’s story of two-faced friends, backstabbing boys, or damaging gossipers. Lulu spoke of Latino culture; of identity, loss, and displacement. She is part of the growing voice at Teton High that is attempting to break down cultural and social barriers.

When asked about being Mexican-American, Lulu responds, “What is American? Every American comes from so many cultures. There is no single American person.” Her parents were born in Mexico, but she and her siblings were born in the United States. Lulu acknowledges this makes school more difficult for many like her. In her experience, she says, “Hispanic families aren’t integrated as much in education.”

The irony lies deep within this statement of Lulu’s: “[Hispanic] parents care so much about education. That’s why they’re here, but they are not getting involved.” She lists some reasons why: multiple jobs, the language barrier, simply not receiving the necessary information. Lulu acknowledges that her own parents became involved for the first time during her middle school years. “I started doing activities and so they got involved,” she says.

Lulu’s involvement is spurred by the expectations of her Hispanic environment. She deeply fears being average. “I see kids my age not fulfilling their dreams. I want to be something, not [get] stuck in the cycle.” For her, “being something” means graduating high school and attending San Diego State University to study international relations.

Lulu’s goals of leaving Teton Valley and earning a bachelor’s degree are not the norm within the machismo of the Hispanic culture. This is where she recognizes the benefit of the American culture in helping her realize her dreams—although she hesitates to use the word feminist. “Here women have the right to do whatever they want,” Lulu says proudly. And her family is very supportive of this attitude and her dreams. “They will do anything to help me make it work.”

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