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Stephanie Fuerte Headshot

Understanding What it Means to be Latina

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What binds people together is always greater than what sets them apart. It's a concept that I fully believe in, but I have to admit, it's hard to trust when you're in the minority.

I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life one evening in the sixth grade. It took a single viewing of a half-hour nightly newscast to convince me that I wanted to be a journalist one day. Nine years later I am still pursuing that exact same dream at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

The only difference between the aspiring journalist I was when I was ten and the aspiring journalist I am now is my full understanding of what it means to be a Latina.

Though the university has made significant effort to diversify the student body, Northwestern still severely lacks the number of Latino/a students compared to our white counterparts. It was obvious from the beginning of the year that Latino students were going to be difficult to point out in a sea of Wildcats walking to class, taking notes (and the occasional "Facebooking") in a lecture hall, or cheering on the football team each game at Ryan Field. Luckily for us, we Latinos at Northwestern don't like to blend in.

Adjusting to a new home was fairly easy since I moved frequently growing up while my father was active in the Air Force. I struggled adjusting more academically than culturally so I was hesitant to commit to any clubs and organizations in fear that it would distract me from my studies.

I postponed my plans to join the different groups Northwestern had to offer, including the largest Latino organization on campus, Alianza. The guilt inside me surged as I dealt with not being a part of something I felt so strongly about - representing Latinos at a private university where they are truly in the minority.

To put it into perspective, whites make up 55 percent of the graduating class of 2014. Latinos make up 8 percent.

Through a mutual friend one Saturday evening, I met a fellow Latina student who immediately recognized me before we even exchanged names. When I questioned her familiarity with me, she explained that she had spoken with others about the handful of Latino students not involved in Alianza. I was one of them.

With an unpleasant expression written clearly all over my face, I escaped the awkward greeting with such frustration that this was how other Latinos on campus saw me: a fellow Latina who wanted nothing to do with her own kind.

As the year progressed, I continued chasing down my dream of someday working in journalism. It brought me closer to an understanding of my Latina roots and how important it is to uphold them. I know I have a major responsibility that awaits me as the rapidly changing demographics of America push Latinos to the forefront. The representation of Latinos in the journalism industry is more important than ever.

Eventually it became easier for others to see that I was committed to promoting Latino presence on campus. I developed friendships with not only more Latinos but students of all backgrounds. In short, we must all stick together -- brown, black and white alike. I often reflect on my freshman year wishing that I had learned this sooner, but I am eager to help this year's incoming freshmen find their own place in this perplexing yet incredibly rewarding place we call college.