Multicultural students explain challenges of merging home, public life


The kitchen was warm, bustling, and filled with conversations in Spanglish as Carina Temores, 21, helped her family cook tamales and mole.

Her grandmother stuffed the tamales with a corn-based dough called masa, her mother put the meat in, her aunt added the cheese and Temores placed them carefully in the pot. Her grandmother recounted old memories of Mexico and Temores said she watched the line of women with a smile and a full heart.

“It’s so beautiful to me that I get to be a part of two lives, that I get to experience, the food, the language, the music—just the essence of being Hispanic while also being completely Americanized,” Temores said. “This country gets more diverse whether some people like it or not.”

Temores’ story is only one of millions in the U.S. — stories that cross borders and oceans. Her story shows the balance younger generations of immigrant ancestry make between their American and native identities.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. welcomes around 3,000 new citizens, completes 30,000 applications for various immigration benefits, processes 200 refugee applications around the world and grants asylum to 40 people already in the country each day.

Temores said her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a last resort. Her mother’s family lost its land after her grandfather was shot and killed, and her father’s family ran out of money after a bad crop year. Temores said they did not have enough time to wait through the entire citizenship process, nor did they have the resources or money to do so.

Filing an immigrant visa petition for a relative is $535 and the processing fee is $325. Depending on the situation and required resources to complete the process, immigrants petitioning for entry into the U.S. face additional fees that can range in the hundreds of dollars, according to the Department of State. When approved for a visa, people must establish permanent residency for five years before applying for naturalization. The actual U.S. citizen application can take at least six months or more and can cost upward of $1,000.

“(My parents) have lived in this country for about 20 years,” Temores said. “But if they get pulled over, that could be it for them. They always tell my siblings and I they don’t regret coming here because its given us the opportunity to be safer (and) happier here.”

Born in the U.S., Temores said she saw the struggles her parents went through as they were discriminated against, denied necessary forms and forced to watch their every move. She said she pretended to ignore her Mexican identity in order to be like everyone else around her.

“There was a point where I didn’t want to speak Spanish anymore because I thought it made me an outsider,” Temores said. “The bottom line was, I wanted normalcy, but I didn’t know what normal was at the time. It’s really sad. I was ashamed of it. I didn’t want to experience racism. I didn’t want to experience judgment for being bilingual. It took me a long time to realize that is something that one should never be ashamed of.”

Although Jackie Huynh, senior in hospitality management, said she did not experience much of a difference between her American and Vietnamese identities growing up in a diverse community, it took her a long time to realize what her parents had given up when they moved to America as refugees from the Vietnam War.

“Until we grow up and mature a little bit, is when we know (and) understand what our parents went through,” Huynh said. “I feel bad that growing up a kid wasn’t exactly what they planned and they weren’t financially stable or anything, but they wanted the best for us, so they had to give more than 100 percent to put food on the table.”

“We’re not struggling as much as they did,” Huynh said. “It’s a new life for us but we’ve adapted to American culture, whereas they’re still figuring out what that is.”

Aalia Whitaker, freshman in arts and sciences, was born to a Caucasian father and an African-American mother. Whitaker said she grew up in low-income housing in Washington, D.C., although she moved all over the country following her father, who was in the military. Whitaker said being part of both cultures allowed her to see multiple sides of issues, and her parents were open to having difficult conversations.

“My grandfather was really big in the civil rights movement when he was younger so he always told me those stories,” Whitaker said. “My grandparents kept (my mom) busy so she didn’t have to worry about was happening in the streets. When I was growing up, it was basically the same. They don’t want me to experience (discrimination) firsthand, but at the same time they’re not afraid to tell me what’s happening. Racism has always been here but it’s been exposed, especially now, with current issues.”

Huynh and Whitaker said one of the major issues their communities faced was representation. Huynh tried to combat this by joining several committees and organizations to speak out and serve as a voice for the community.

However, Huynh said she was often one of the only minorities in the room.

“Going into these meetings, they think that you are the representation for all Asians,” Huynh said. “That’s like 30 percent of the school population on my shoulders, it’s a huge burden.”

Huynh said she took opportunities like those to promote her identity.

“It’s also a boost of self-esteem because now you’re thinking, ‘I must represent my kind in a good light that’s not portrayed as a stereotype,’” Huynh said.

Even though Huynh was often the only minority at those meetings, the demographics have been changing. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center article, Americans are more racially and ethnically diverse than in the past, and there will be no one majority race or ethnicity by 2055.

Whenever Whitaker saw conversations or situations take problematic turns, she said she made it a point to stop and discuss the issues.

“When I was growing up, you didn’t really take smack talk,” Whitaker said. “We have low tolerance for people messing with others. With the African-American culture, we’re still pushing to be seen as one and that no one is different.”

Whitaker said movements like Black Lives Matter have been misrepresented and instead advocate for equality.

“We’re just saying black lives matter too, we’re not saying we matter more than anybody else,” Whitaker said. “I’m like, ‘You guys aren’t seeing the whole picture.’”

Whitaker said overcoming racism has been challenging.

“You’re going to meet multiple obstacles, and you have to overcome them and you have to keep pushing forward,” Whitaker said. “Do not settle. Do not go to their level. Racism is not going to disappear overnight. But at the same time, I don’t feel like you should be giving in to it.”

Temores said she also felt the need to educate people or explain her perspective because situations are not always black and white. She said she realized people from different backgrounds and experiences have not always seen the tension in and between communities, so she tries to bridge that gap.

“It seems like, especially nowadays, people that come here for help come to this country for solace and with hope for opportunity are kind of getting slapped in the face,” Temores said. “And my parents see that every day … It’s not about being colorblind — it’s about learning acceptance. Race now is a big part of who I am. I’m proud of that, it’s made me who I am as a person. I think people should see that color and embrace it.”