Embracing the Struggles and Celebrations of my Latinx Heritage
October 14, 2020
I was never allowed to believe something was too hard or impossible to accomplish. If the thought even crossed my mind, my mom would repeat her mantra, “If Grandpa can cross the desert into a country where he doesn’t speak the language with nowhere to go and $50 in his pocket, you can do it!” While I could have decided to teach in a community with mostly Latinx children, that fearless spirit brought me to Memphis, where many of my students have had minimal exposure to the Latinx community.
One of the first questions I received during my first year of teaching in Memphis was, “Ms. Duran, are you light-skinned or white?” When I explained to my curious students that I am Mexican American, they didn’t fully understand what I meant. As a Latinx educator in the South, I realize more than ever that representation matters, even in a predominantly Black school. Having meaningful conversations, creating relationships across identities, and fostering an inclusive community are very important to me as a fourth-grade teacher.
When I left my home in Arizona, the place where I was born, raised and educated, I thought back to my childhood. From the time I was a little girl, my parents always taught me the importance of being involved in my community, fighting for equality and embracing my heritage. This took many forms, including marching against SB1070, a discriminatory law that invited racial profiling of Latinx people and others who may look or sound "foreign," and planning my own quinceañera, a customary coming-of-age celebration when I turned fifteen. We embraced the struggles along with the celebrations and continue to do so today.
For me, there is no story about my journey without mentioning the love, support, and dedication of my family to our customs and traditions as well as to everyone in the communities in which we live. It has been instilled in me that it’s my right and my duty to honor my ancestors' struggles and to fight for everyone. I wouldn’t be where I am today had one man not dared to leave everything he knew for a better, safer life.
Upon arriving in the United States, my Grandpa worked every job imaginable. He has worked as an agricultural farmworker picking sugar beets and onions. He worked at a cow hide packing plant and doing the worst part of the job, so that one day his children and grandchildren could have jobs or careers doing something better and easier. And now my mom and I are college educated and I’m here in Memphis doing what I can to contribute to our country's next group of leaders.
“It has been instilled in me that it’s my right and my duty to honor my ancestors' struggles and to fight for everyone.”
As we close out National Hispanic Heritage Month, I invite my Latinx community to share their stories and celebrate with others outside of our familiar Latinx circles to create diversity and bridge the gaps between our worlds. I'm proud of the accomplishments my friends, colleagues, and teachers have made in education, and their continued advocacy for my community, the Black community, and for all communities in need.
Sabrina Duran is a 2018 Teach For America Memphis alumn. She currently teaches elementary language arts at Cornerstone Prep Denver Campus.