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Passing the Mic: 3 Latinx Student Leaders Share Their Hopes and Advice

For Latinx Heritage Month, we spoke to North Carolina college students about their proudest accomplishments, advice for educators, and more. 

By Sara-Kay Mooney

October 6, 2020

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we interviewed three incredible Latinx student leaders involved with the Carolina Youth Coalition. We’re grateful to alum Maria Diaz (Charlotte-Piedmont Triad ‘15), director of persistence and pre-college programs at Carolina Youth Coalition, for connecting us.

Jose R. Santos Ortiz

Jose was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, but was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he graduated from Independence High School. Jose is currently a first year student at Berea College where he is freshman class president and is considering majoring in education. He is a pharmacy technician at Walgreens, and interned this summer with Bank of America. His family moved to the United States so that he and his brothers could pursue higher education and escape the violence from El Salvador. Jose has been involved with the Carolina Youth Coalition for the past two years. 

What are your hopes for Latinx students in NC? 

My hope is to see more Latinx representation and students pursuing higher education.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment was telling my parents I got a full ride to Berea College. They worked so hard to give me the resources I needed to succeed and to see their faces of joy made all the sweat and tears worthwhile.

What’s one piece of advice you have for educators in North Carolina?  

Do not lose hope in difficult students. I was a difficult student, but I had teachers that helped me realize my true potential which made me think a different way.

Emma Herrera-Simon

Emma is a Mexican American student at Central Piedmont Community College and will be transferring to Appalachian State University in the fall of 2021 to major in healthcare administration. 

Who is a Latinx leader or mentor who has had a big influence on your life? 

A Latinx leader who has made a significant influence on me is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her background of how she got to where she now gives me hope. From her, I learned that it does not matter where you come from as long as you believe in yourself and never stop working when it comes to achieving your goals. I was also extremely fortunate to have a Latinx mentor, Maria Diaz. She is always encouraging me, especially when I most need it. She is constantly telling me not to give up and let me know that I am capable of everything. “You got this!” 

What’s your proudest accomplishment? 

My parents are immigrants and all of their hopes and dreams have been pegged onto me because I am a first-generation college student in my family. The college process was very hard for me but with the help of them and my mentors, I would say my proudest accomplishment is going to college. 

What are your hopes for Latinx students in NC?  

My hope for Latinx students in NC is to not give up. Stay committed to your goals and do not be discouraged or influenced by anyone who tells you otherwise.

Carlos Santos Ortiz

Carlos is a Dreamer majoring in architecture and minoring in mechanical engineering at the University of Miami on the full-ride scholarship. Carlos has interned with Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, apprenticed with SteelFab, and has a co-op position with Messer lined up for the summer of 2021. He has been involved with Carolina Youth Coalition since 2018, the start of his senior year of high school, and plans to remain involved after graduating from college. 

What are your hopes for Latinx students in North Carolina? 

I hope that Latinx students continue to seek out help and help other Latinx students. I hope that we continue to show the world that we are as strong as the next person.

What’s your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment is obtaining a full ride scholarship to a four-year university of my choice to get a higher education via the WINGS Scholarship. Michael Jordan is supporting me financially through my four years of education. I will be graduating college debt-free. 

What’s one piece of advice you have for educators in North Carolina?

Please continue to support us Latinx students, because it truly does mean the world to us. Teachers, educators, and mentors have helped me see a side of me that I did not see in myself.