The following article is the first assignment I wrote as a journalism graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. It is a personal essay that includes some interesting statistics and demographics about El Paso, Texas. I meant to publish it in a newspaper but never got the chance to do so. I apologize if some of the information needs to be updated.
“Do you have ‘Umph!?’” asks Arminda Figueroa, President and Founder of Latin2Latin, in one of her latest columns published on the Huffington Post. It focuses on the growing success of Latinas in the United States: “They are unique and they are beautiful, not only on the outside, but also so much on the inside” boasts Figueroa.
Reading Figueroa’s column obviously got me thinking about my representation of the Latino/a community, not that I have never done so before.
There has been a yearning for me to break free from negative, predestined, cultural downfalls since I was a child. It seems like far too many people have said that being Mexican American is about being ignorant. Some of the statistics concerning my ethnicity seem to provide proof of it.
I was born in El Paso, Texas. According to the 2010 U. S. Census Bureau, it is a big city with about 82 percent of the population being Hispanic or Latino. Almost 19 percent of the whole city population has a bachelor’s degree or higher.
I studied at El Paso Independent School District, or EPISD, the largest school district in the city with 62,328 students. Some 79 percent of that population is considered Hispanic, 70 percent are economically disadvantaged and 62 percent are considered “at-risk” students.
As you read the statistics a bad feeling surely sparks inside you. I can almost guarantee that it is a small feeling compared to the emotional turmoil I endured growing up as a part of those statistics. It is the same feeling that propelled me to strive for something better for myself.
I grew up in “El Segundo Barrio (the Second Ward),” the central part of the city composed of the poorest Mexican Americans – including several with a past history of gang violence. My mother, Veronica Torres, was born in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, the closest neighboring city and became a U.S. citizen in her early teens. My dad, Jose Mario Porras, gained citizenship when he married my mother. Both never graduated from high school.
I became aware of how different my life would be when I went to middle school. By then, my mom had divorced my dad, obtained a GED degree and gotten a job at the school I was attending. Many students strongly believed that I would be incredibly successful because of the support and encouragement my mother gave me.
Things were different for my peers. Being incredibly shy, obedient and reserved at that age was probably one of the best things that happened to me. I was the complete opposite of the unruly “cholo (gangster)” class clowns, the drug experimenting teenagers with impoverished broken homes and the beautiful teen mothers that were still attending school.
My mother’s colleagues were also quick to help me apply to a health magnet school to make sure that I was in the right track to get a higher education. I had never heard of college until this proposition came around. I had not even given a thought to what I would do with my life besides believing that I would one day get married and have babies.
I am now the first generation in my family to graduate from high school and college and the best part is I will not stop there.
I probably learned more in college than others had hoped or expected. I got good grades on my courses and was highly involved in different school activities but I also explored my identity and refined my career goals.
I started my master’s degree in journalism this past Aug. 24 at the University of Texas at Austin. I hope, or rather I know, that I am going to bring much more to the world of journalism.
The answer to Arminda Figueroa’s question is yes. Yes, I have “Umph!”