“I am a multilingual indigenous Mexican-American. I come from a single parent household with four other sisters, and I am the second oldest. I was the first one to go to college and graduate, but growing up we were a low income family and there wasn’t a lot to go around. I didn’t realize how much of a low income family we were. I didn’t know that we were lacking funds or things like that, it was just the way of life. Graduating from UNC Chapel Hill was a miracle.”
Once Estefane graduated, she decided to pay it forward and work for the college advising corps for a couple years at two high schools – where the demographics of those schools were predominately African-American. For Estefane, working in these environments gave her the chance to connect with these students because she could relate to a lot of what they were dealing with. Growing up, she talked about how going through the educational system is where she noticed she was different from her classmates – because not a lot of them looked like her.
Navigating Identity in School.
“I remember in elementary school being one of the only brown faces in my classes, and a lot of my friends growing up were white. In middle school it became a little more apparent because I was on the college track and so I was taking algebra classes while [other people who looked like me] were in regular math classes. When I got to high school I was taking AP classes and it was not until my junior or senior year that I started seeing more people who looked like me in my classes.”
Race was not the only thing that Estefane felt for her was highlighted in school, but her family’s income was something she noticed more when she was in middle and high school. What triggered the awareness? The brands her and her sisters did not have nor could afford.
“We started to notice and hear a lot of other people saying things about what they had. And brands were a huge topic back then especially going into high school. So if you were wearing Nike, Adidas or North Face, it was noticeable. I have been to Mexico several times so I knew what true poverty and low resources looked like. Over here it is a lot different. There are people who you wouldn’t even know are low income or suffering and for me, I knew that any time I wanted something I could not have it. It could be something as small as an item in the checkout line, and I knew my mom was already going to tell me no. Whenever my mom picked me up from school, I noticed that we were not in the same kind of cars that other kids’ parents drove. My mom is the type of person who believes in using something until it does not work at all – but I remember sometimes being embarrassed about that.”
One of the most unique things about Estefane’s story is that she has dual nationality. Even though she was born here, she also has documents and a birth certificate from Mexico. She said that it is always interesting when she gets asked the question “where are you from?”, because she has noticed sometimes that question is a cover up for something they are too afraid to ask.
“If I am talking to someone white and they ask me where I am from, most of the time they just want affirmation that I grew up in the United States. It wasn’t until I got to college that I was actually proud to say that I was Mexican-American.
The Challenges of Being First Generation.
Graduating from college as Estefane said, was a miracle for her. As a first generation college student, there were many things she struggled with that maybe other people did not face because they had someone who could help guide them along the way. For Estefane getting to college was an accomplishment in itself – she never thought about what she was going to do after that.
“A lot of us were worried about just graduating and getting to that point because it was difficult enough in itself. But we never thought about what was going to happen next. I was never told to think about that plan because in high school my only goal was to get into college. I didn’t have a plan. I thought after I graduated that was it and there were just going to be jobs lined up. I didn’t know we needed to have resumes, we needed to be able to interview, we needed to be able to search for jobs. I didn’t know how to do any of that. I knew there were resources on campus, but being a first generation student it was hard for me to ask for help and recognize that I needed help. I was finally comfortable asking for help my junior and senior year. I could definitely see the improvement on my academic records those years. But those first and second years were tough.”
One of the most powerful things about Estefane receiving a college degree is she is able to be a role model and help her sisters throughout their journey, something she did not have modeled for her. She mentioned she never wanted to pressure them, but she always strived to push them forward. Everything she did was with them in mind.
Paying It Forward.
“I knew I had to go to college and that I could not waste the opportunities college gave me. That was one of the things that I brought back to my household. Education was going to be important. Anything I do is with them in mind. I always make sure I give them as much information as I can. My younger sister is a freshman in college now, and being able to guide and help her throughout the process has been really great. Seeing her grow and develop in a lot of ways that I wish I had is why my work in higher education and college access means alot to me, because I want to make sure I am having as much reach as I can. Any time I talk to families, I think of my own family and my own siblings. I always think about what information I wish I had back then.”
The Beauty of The Trials.
Although Estefane’s journey has not always been easy, she reiterated that for her it has always been worth it and she is proud of the experiences she has had. As cliche as it sounds, everything does happen for a reason.
“As you grow older and gain more confidence in yourself, you realize that a lot of the goals and things you had in mind might not be happening at the exact time you wanted it to. But everything happens for a reason – even if you don’t know what it is at the moment. Later on it will become clearer, and you’ll be able to know why something happened. Or maybe you won’t, but either way you make the best of whatever you get. That is what keeps me going. I am a realist, but I am also very optimistic. I know that you can create opportunities out of problems, out of anything that happens to you.”
Inspired by you today, Estefane. You are truly a reminder that it’s not how or where you start that determines who you are – or your worth.
Water Your Garden ladies.