Creciendo Juntos

Creciendo Juntos

LEARNING, LEADING AND GROWING TOGETHER.

Tiana Sigala is a 27 year old student who traveled from Phoenix, Arizona to Colorado to find the best fit for her academic career as a teen mom that dropped out in tenth grade. She is currently attending Piedmont Virginia Community College, and recently received an award (Kim Yoshiko Wright award for Sociology) for her academic accomplishments as well as being involved with the organization of Virginia Student Power Network.

Tiana is an independent woman who went through a lot growing up in Arizona. Coming from a background of abusive parents and a poor environment, she was forced to grow up around the age of 12, when she began raising her younger siblings. At the age of 15, Tiana had her own son to contend with, and due to challenges in the home, she was forced to leave high school in order to provide for her child. After a year of home-insecurity and moving from place to place, Tiana met her husband, and together they were able to secure a home and, eventually, better paying jobs, freeing Tiana up to focus on returning to academics.

When Tiana and her family moved to Colorado, she was mainly a stay-at-home mom, now taking care of two kids. It was during her time in Colorado that she felt the urge to return to school, which she had always seen as a way to better herself.

I asked her if she had any key passion that kept her motivation in attending school and she laughed, saying, “I’ve always wanted to become those lawyers you see on tv shows that made dramatic speeches. I’ve always felt an admiration for those people.”

So, when she was researching different colleges, she came upon the University of Virginia and saw the guaranteed admission program through Piedmont Virginia Community College. To Tiana, this was the only way she would gain admittance to a prestigious university having lived such a different life, with such an untraditional academic background. Charlottesville became her opportunity to overcome the hardships she faced in acquiring an education as a teen.

Tiana faced many issues at PVCC. She required developmental math classes in order to begin her required science credits, and her knowledge of basic skills often taken for granted (such as MLA citations or navigating the college’s learning management system, Blackboard Learning) was lacking entirely. She described her first couple of semesters as a “trial by fire”. “There’s definitely an expectation of knowledge there, like you should just know MLA or you should be familiar with online learning systems… you really have to become comfortable with admitting when you don’t know something and asking for help,” she said.

She also found that in college, self-advocacy had to be second nature in order to achieve success. Unfortunately, self-advocacy is not taught but rather expected knowledge. Tiana did not have the skills to advocate when she arrived at Piedmont Virginia Community College and would often struggle in communicating with several professors, something she credits to the way she was raised.

“I feel as though in latinx families advocating for yourself is a sign of arrogance or disrespect. We’re taught very strictly to be obedient, not to challenge rules or expect explanations from those above us,” she said, “But it seemed like the students around me who were doing well were students unafraid to ask questions, to ask for extensions, or to expect the professors due dates to fit around their situations.”

As a fellow Latina student that also struggles with self-advocacy, I asked her how she learned to advocate for herself.

“It was definitely self-taught,’ she said, laughing, “I learned through reading Latinx scholar’s experiences and books. It was really about believing in my right to take up space, my right to be considered. Through them I learned that my voice deserves to be heard, my needs should be considered. I wish that I had come across these authors before, because the trick was reading about the experiences of people like me.”

The discussion led to that fact that people of color often have to find books that correlates to their lives outside of the current academic studies. Tiana found comfort through authors such as Ana Castillo, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldua, and eventually found her courage to speak up for herself.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

Charlottesville inspired her to connect more intimately to her cultural identity as a Latina.

“Growing up in predominant-Latinx communities, identity is not a notable factor because it surrounds you– latinx identity never felt too far from home,” she said. Arriving in Charlottesville was a stark change from the community she was accustomed to. “I think I felt inspired to stay connected with my Mexican identity because there was no one like me around. Everything I took for granted in Arizona was gone.”

Tiana arrived in Charlottesville in 2014 where the Latinx community was still relatively new. To her, Latinx communities residing in Charlottesville-Albemarle area had so little representation that it almost felt as if they were non-existent in the area.

But as she became more involved with the Latinx community overtime, she begins to appreciate many resources Charlottesville has to offer, such as Creciendo Juntos, Sin Barreras, and The Women’s Initiative.

Tiana’s familiarity with The Women’s Initiative came from her first experience with therapy, something she feels is too often stigmatized in latinx communities.

“It took me a while to get into therapy because in the Latinx community, it’s not a thing,” Tiana begins, “But now I know there’s a need in bringing awareness to Latinx community of mental health resources, there’s a generational of trauma that we never get the chance to address.”

As Tiana turns her sights to engaging with the community more, I asked her what she feels are some issues that need to be addressed in the Latinx communities.

She quickly makes the point that the Latinx community is not one-dimensional, therefore there’s always an issue to be addressed at every intersection of latinidad.

“When we talk about addressing the needs of youth (and) community, we need to focus on everything such as equitable accessibility in our education system, teaching self-advocacy, resources for food insecurity, housing insecurity, legal aid assistance, and so much more.”

In the end, Tiana states that the most efficient way to get things done is by getting the Latinx community together inclusively, and for allies to do a lot more listening.

I asked her to give a message to the Latinx youth, to which she responded with, “Education does not define you, navigating it is intimidating, but you’re not alone and you’ll succeed in the way you can, in a way that makes you happy.”

Written by Elizabeth Valtierra

Click here to read June 2019 Newsletter.

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