I was born in Latin America, a place where, from birth, Latinos are told that they are not and never will be as great as their counterparts in the United States.
Latinos have been used, robbed of their resources and our identities, looked down upon, called derogatory names and told that, no matter what, they will never be enough.
Paradoxically, the conquistadores who did this to them centuries ago and the new world powers who continue to use Latinos’ home as their backyard, are the ones that Latinos are so desperately trying to imitate in the present.
Years ago, I read “Ecuador: Señas Particulares”, an essay by one of Ecuador’s greatest writers, Jorge Enrique Adoum, which describes the painful reality of Latin America: Latinos hate who they are.
The essay cited a 1996 study, which found that more than 70% of Ecuador’s youth said they preferred to be born in the United States or Europe rather than in Latin America because they wanted to attain success that seemed impossible in their country. They wanted the American Dream.
This dream is the force behind the desire to be anything but Latin American and the consequential waves of immigration to the United States. We are so geographically close to the land of opportunity, yet so realistically far from living it ourselves, but that has not stopped us from trying to experience it.
My parents had me when they were young. One was a college sophomore majoring in law, the other a high school senior.
When I was four, my mother, leaving me with my grandparents, left for the United States for work in order to save money and raise a child.
I did not see her for ten months—an eternity for a four-year-old.
Five years later, my father left after becoming a Fulbright scholar. He travelled to the U.S. to earn as many credentials as he could, so, when the time would come, I could become the person I wished to be.
Nine years later, eighteen-year-old me realized the time came for me to depart, so I left everything and came to the United States for schooling and credentials. I am, in a sense, following my father’s footsteps.
I was raised by loving grandparents and idealistic parents. To be fair, they were so young and still had a fervor for change that only youth can ignite. Standing up for what is right was the main lesson my parents taught me.
I grew up listening to musicians singing about freedom and quests for peace, reading authors narrating the stories of struggling, hard-working people, my people.
I grew up and realized that I did not wish I was born in the U.S. or Europe. I grew up and joined other friends looking for justice and equality, loving every second of the battle.
Because of this need, I have to fight, and I have encountered shocking situations. However, I have never felt offended. I have felt utter sadness. Sadness for being undercut to a stereotype and for seeing people undermine the battle of my people.
Two weeks ago, I faced, for the first time in my life, unfounded and hurtful discrimination.
The day after it happened, I sat in church, listening to my pastor announce free citizenship classes to a group of anything but bad hombres, and I smiled, because I was reminded why we came here in the first place.
We came because this country is great, and it has never stopped being so.
I have visited ghostly towns full of elders taking care of their grandchildren because every person of working age has left. I have seen broken families, parentless children, and never-ending nostalgia.
Although I speak from a privileged position, I have a visa, a comfortable room, no need to get a job, and a ticket back home every four months, I still need to speak for my kin. I cannot let disrespectful remarks go unnoticed because we are not what we are accused of being.
Latinos are not perfect, but they are still people and, as such, deserve respect.
At the end of the day, they did not come to steal American jobs nor to commit crimes.
They, like me, came seeking a better life and to experience liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Stephanie Sanchez is a
sophomore classics, journalism and political science major from Quito, Ecuador.