What It Means to be Latino

By Estrella Gomez, Round Lake High School '18

This summer, I got to experience college life by going on two Summer College Programs (“SCPs”)s. Although both were amazing and unique in their own way, one managed to send me off with something far greater than memories or souvenirs. 

For my first SCP, I went to Elmhurst college in Chicago for the National Hispanic Institute’s Lorenzo De Zavala Youth Legislative session. Different from other programs, it forced us to open our eyes on the Latino community and what it meant to be a Latino. Going into it, I thought I knew what it meant to be Hispanic. Coming out I realized just how wrong I was. This program made me truly realize what it meant to be Latina. I wasn't just a Hispanic, I was part of something that I never even realized I was a part of. I was part of the Latino community. During the course of this program, I got the chance to build a bond with students my age that I had never met before, and yet easily talked to and danced with as though we’d known each other our whole lives. I got to see through the eyes of many on what it meant to be Latino. We talked through stereotypes and discussed what each one meant. Yes, we are hard workers. Yes, we are a large community. But together we are each more than a simple Latino or Latina. We each have our own way of doing things, both physically and mentally. We each are loyal to one another no matter who it is. When the time comes, we are more than a single Latino or Latina. We are a family. We are one.
I came out of this program with new eyes, and was surprised at some of the changes it brought about in my life. My name is a great example of this. Many instantly jump to the chance to announce in English that my name, Estrella, means Star. Because of the difficulty of correctly pronouncing it, without a second thought I used to always let others pronounce it the way they wanted, to the point where the English pronunciation was how I introduced myself to others. The National Hispanic Institute made me realize that my name was one that signified my Latino culture. And as such, I now proudly use the Spanish pronunciation. I say my name the way it is supposed to be said. I speak of my community with proudness and boldness when asked. I thought I knew what it meant to be a Latina. LDZ made me realize just how much I was truly missing out on, and I will never regret having the opportunity to experience it. 


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