Students come from many different backgrounds, cultures and situations. Each has their own unique journey. This journey allows students to define their life and who they are and what they want to become. For two best friends at Tyler Junior College, their culture and community helps motivate them to push through college despite adversity.
“I mean, coming to college as a first-generation student was hard, kind of because you don’t know what to expect,” said Erika Gonzalez-Alonso, executive vice president of the Hispanic Student Organization.
Executive President of HSO, Vanessa Trevino, said she also shared the same feelings of anxiety attending college as a first-generation student.
“Whenever I first came out here, I was really scared because, like Erika said, we’re first generation. So of course, we can’t ask our parents or our grandparents what to expect, since they never were here [or] did anything like this before either,” Trevino said. “And it is really scary, especially since you’re worried about maybe not seeing representation, not seeing anybody who’s like you, or looks like you or has your face or has your experiences.”
Trevino mentioned she’s from Dallas and expected East Texas to not have much diversity, but was surprised to find she found a community to call home.
“But once you find it [community] like here at TJC, you find community and family and TRIO helps us and HSO helps us feel less alone,” Trevino said.
TRIO is a student support program that helps first-generation and/or low-income students access the resources they need to be successful.
Obstacles and struggles are inevitable in life. Trevino and Gonzalez-Alonso face some challenges in their college journey due to their position as a minority.
“I mean, higher education, academia can be elitist, no? It’s really not built for women, specifically women of color. Whether you’re Asian, brown, Latino, Black, Native, anything to really succeed, because it wasn’t built for us, by us, because we didn’t have the opportunity. So it’s very hard. It’s very hard,” Trevino said.
Trevino expounds by saying you’re put at an advantage if you have a college-educated mentor or financial support, which many minorities don’t have.
To push through the adversities one may face, both Trevino and Gonzalez-Alonso stresses the importance of finding your community.
“You basically have each other’s back,” Gonzalez-Alonso said.
According to Oxford Languages, culture relates “to the ideas, customs and social behavior of a society.” Culture affects how you dress, speak, act and many more characteristics. For some, culture gives them the ability to express themselves and share their customs with others.
“I express my culture with HSO. Because I mean, HSO, like, brings the Latino community all together,” Gonzalez-Alonso said.
For others, the disadvantages of being a minority fuels one to beat the odds and create their own community. Trevino comes from a place in Dallas where Latin culture was heavily represented and was the norm. Coming to East Texas introduced her to a completely different environment.
“It was a culture shock. Then I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, I’m gonna, like, drift away from the culture.’ But if anything, I feel like I go even more harder for it now than I did before,” Trevino said. “Because now that it’s not literally the norm, status quo, that thing I see in my everyday life. Now it’s like, oh, so I have to go out there and make little parts wherever I can have the culture, wherever I am at peace and connected to it.”
Through the obstacles and discrimination that comes with their journey, the women still find beauty within it all.
“My favorite parts are sharing the culture and the music, letting people know that like, we’re not just about our good foods, but we’re about everything,” Gonzalez-Alonso said.
Trevino shared similar feelings toward their Latin heritage. She states that despite the barriers and disadvantages thrown her way as a minority, she feels liberated and that she is deserving of beating all odds.
“Even if I shouldn’t, I deserve to be here. And it’s like that whole like, again, like this was not built with us in mind as a woman of color. Like, this place was not built with us in mind. They denied us a spot at the table. Now we’re gonna, straight up, we’re gonna break that f****** table. And that’s what you’re supposed to do. And I love it,” Trevino.
Both women desire to be lawyers in the future. They believe they can make a great impact by providing representation to the Latino community.
According to the American Bar Association, 5% of all U.S. attorneys were Hispanic in 2020, with 18.5% of the U.S. population being Hispanic.
Trevino shares that Latinos make up a small percentage of U.S. lawyers, making the lack of representation a motivating factor for them to keep pushing toward their dream.
“Because one, we’re not going to meet too many people who are like us, who look like us,” Trevino said. “But if our people make up such a small percentage, what are we going to do if we can’t find anybody like us? Yeah, to go and be that person, that safe place, like for us?”
The women encourage any Hispanic student who needs motivation to keep going on their journey.
“If there’s any first-generation Hispanic students out there, just to never give up and not do it for yourself, but for your parents, your family and your community,” Gonzalez-Alonso said.
HSO is a student-led organization that is open to everyone who wants to embrace the Latin culture and get to learn more about it. The group meets at 5:30 p.m. every other Monday, at the Rogers Student Center in the spirit room.