A 24-year-old senior pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Are there many other Latinos at your school? There are many Latinos at UCLA, but there is nowhere near the number of Latinos there should be in order to reasonably represent the population of Latinos in Los Angeles. Despite that, the population of Latinos at UCLA is diverse-we have Latinos who were born in the US to immigrant parents, those born in the US to parents who have been in the US for generations, and international Latinos, too. People trace their legacy to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and so on. I've run into Latinos from just about everywhere in Latin America and the United States.
Are there many other Latinos at your school? (Do you mean) closeted or open about their sexuality? I think there is a distinction. It is difficult for some Latinos to come out-even in the UCLA environment. Sometimes, it's understandable considering that this is not the only environment in which they live. But focusing on those of us who are out, I have to say there are very few Latinos, which is reasonable to expect because we are a small population within the Latino population. If I include closeted QVs and those who are not involved in campus activities, then I think the percentage of Latinos at UCLA is the same as the percentage of Latinos in relation to the general Latino population in LA. (Out) Latinos at UCLA are only a handful, but we are loud. And if this year's freshman class is any indicator of things to come, it's getting better. This year a strong crew of Latino freshman came ready to shake things up.
How are you involved in the community? Most of my involvement in the community revolves around advocacy. When I came out, I was moved to make things better for whomever came out after me. I recognized the injustice that comes with being QV. I've been an officer of the QV & Lesbian Association at UCLA and I've been on ad hoc committees and boards such as the host committee for the Ryan White National Conference on HIV/AIDS which was held in LA last year.
For me, La Familia has been the highlight of my involvement. I am currently Co-Chair of La Familia de UCLA, a campus-based advocacy and support group for lesbian, QV, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Latinos. Most of our advocacy has been to raise consciousness on campus. Along with Gabby Rodriguez from Stanford in northern California, I am the Co-Chair of the Queer Latino Youth Conference, which is our ongoing project to bring what we have learned into the community and encourage youth activity and involvement. This year's conference, "Sex, Activism & Power," takes place at Stanford University on November 7, 1998.
What does knowledge mean to you? It's about myself-taking care of me by knowing my likes and dislikes and knowing that I can be better than I am now. Knowledge is something that you possess, so it's like an asset or an investment-you work to improve upon it. It's not just about knowing facts, but an awareness and better understanding of things gained through experience and study. I develop knowledge everyday by what I read, who I spend time with, and what I see.
How did you get into your college? That's a long story. I wasn't focused in high school. Back then, I didn't even know if college was something I wanted to do. The obstacles to my goals were mostly because of my lack of information: How would I pay for school? Was I smart enough to compete? Could I work and go to school at the same time? I had more immediate rewards I could have taken, like working full-time for example. I didn't get much help making choices. I graduated from Hollywood High without much clarity. All I had was the same part-time job I had throughout high school. A friend suggested I stay in school-good suggestion! Even if you say you'll go back to school, chances are you never will. The first year out of high school is critical. By the time I graduated high school, I hadn't even applied to universities so I went to LA City College for a short while and then to Glendale Community College. I found direction there, and I solidified my personal and professional goals. I completed all the classes required to study Liberal Arts and also completed the requirements to transfer to a university. I applied to four year schools with UCLA as my top choice. I got accepted and here I am finishing up my B.A.
How has your college experience been as a student? I like school now more than I once did because I do what I want. There are still some requirements, but there are so many choices to fulfill those requirements. I'm in school for me and not for anyone else which makes being a student worth the effort. I've learned a lot of self discipline at the community college level and at UCLA. No one is holding my hand here. If I want something, I have to figure out the strategy to get it. I'm a strong supporter of community colleges. Some of us need more direction, like in a college environment. Others have obligations to deal with like children and job commitments and what not. The years I've spent in college have helped me clearly define my goals.
How has your college experience been as a Latino? My community college did not have a program for Latinos-which was no fun. But UCLA does. In fact, one of the reasons I chose UCLA was because I knew there would be something for Latinos. I was very right. I've made friendships in La Familia that I know will last for the rest of my life. It has helped me to have other Latinos at school.
Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now? What are your long term goals? I have made a two-year commitment to develop the position of Program Associate and take on more responsibilities in the Grants Program Department at the Liberty Hill Foundation when I get the B.A. in June. This may lead to a higher position in non-profit management. But right now is another moment in my life to evaluate what I have accomplished so far and discern what I want next. I have professional goals which definitely need even more school, so I'm thinking about the next step-a Master's Degree and then even a Ph.D. In two years, I should be ready to make a commitment to the next step in education. In five years, I see myself with a lot more tangible experience, a higher degree, and more actively involved in policy issues-specifically those affecting Latino communities. My ten-year goals include establishing myself professionally in a job that gives me the security to invest in my community and all those other added benefits. At the same time, I want to establish myself personally with a soulmate.
What advice do you have for our younger Latino hermanos regarding education? Set goals! Set those goals higher than what you think you can achieve-don't worry how you are going to get to them. Begin by asking yourself what you want, then write it down-as crazy as the ideas sound. Sometimes the ones that come from your gut are the most honest. If you are in high school, ask a million questions about universities. Pick up applications and financial aid forms and fill them in. Ask for help. Don't get discouraged-especially by what others say. No matter what your circumstances are, some kind of education beyond high school is necessary. Stay in school at least part-time right after graduation from high school. Once you are in "higher education," think in terms of networking. You meet all kinds of people in a college setting. Have a good time gaining knowledge. It's for you, not anybody else. Go for what you want. You'll know how to get it or you'll figure it out as you go. Just do something!
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