Struggle of a Marginalized Mentality
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Leanna Aldis, Grant Writer for Tikkun Grant Advancement. Our philosophy is focused on investment in change-making organizations that work toward racial and economic equity. I write to you today about my lived experiences as a 2nd generation American Latina. The passion I have as a writer and fundraiser for youth development is fueled by the multi-generational passion inherited by my grandmother as a seamstress, and my mother, a trailblazing Mexican immigrant who has always strived for “better.” Here, I write about how my struggles in an underserved community influenced my experiences, education, employment, and outlook on life. Oxford defines marginalization as “the treatment of a person, group, or concept as insignificant or peripheral.” A marginalized mentality is a belief that you are peripheral or less important. I became aware of our family’s circumstances in the early days of middle school. Our family is rooted in one of the nation’s most concentrated Hispanic communities in Northeast Houston, where the current household median income is $35,000 a year. My household, on the other hand, was led by a single mom of three girls. She made minimum wage as a waitress and worked nights when tips were the highest. My school was conveniently located in one of the most high-risk areas for crime and gang-related activity. Of total students, 90 percent were Hispanic and 97 percent of qualified for Free or Reduced Priced Lunch. The school was riddled with fights, which were no doubt a result of stressed-out teenagers in an overcrowded school who also faced heavy stressors at home. There seemed to be a fight in every area of our environment. At home, we witnessed our mom fighting her way to pay the bills, fighting to make sure we were not taken advantage of, or fighting within the family as we were pushed to our brinks with stress. By the middle of sixth grade, I began creating my own assumptions about my future, which were based on my limited experiences in our marginalized community. I would take the role of a supportive Latina wife and mother as so many strong women had modeled for me in our traditional Mexican family structure. There were yet to be academic role models in our family and so I had little exposure and very little interest in pursuing my own education. The thought of living in a beautiful new home was a silly girl’s dream that belonged to white people only, or so I thought. I could never afford to have a big wedding, so I didn’t waste my time. A career was furthest from my mind and not a topic of discussion within our home or school. Covering basic needs was the sole mission.
As I grew older, my school and home life were pretty consistent with my younger years. The big exception is that I eventually moved to my dad’s house. He is white. We lived in a white area, although still low-income. The school and neighborhood scenes were much different than I was used to. Mostly, white kids occupied the school. The halls were not overcrowded, lunch was no longer rushed, and there were not many fights in comparison to my old school. People spoke, looked, and behaved differently than I did. I found ways to change myself to make friends and be accepted into this white world that I found myself in. I began straightening my hair, and I changed my Spanish accent after getting teased so much. I took on the behaviors of those around me for the sake of acceptance and still, I knew I did not belong. The kids were smarter, they had nicer clothes, and they ate different foods. I knew I was in a world that was not for me. I grew increasingly frustrated and overwhelmed by how much further behind I saw myself in comparison to everyone else.
Soon, I began dating and I eventually moved out of my family home at the age of 17. I found odd jobs that paid minimum wage and pursued the only path in life I knew. My mental health began declining as a young girl and took a sharp decline in young adulthood. As I knew it, I had nothing to offer this world. I was unimportant.
Fast forward a couple of years when I landed a support job for a large medical clinic with very supportive leadership. They took me in under their wings and provided me with new experiences that sparked exciting possibilities. I could not believe how interested they were in me! A doctor who became one of my mentors began to ask me about my future plans and challenged my outlook in life. He appreciated my strong work ethic and saw something in me that I had not considered. Our conversations intrigued me and so I began to pursue college because I trusted that if he saw something then it just might be true. I had an innate feeling to be better.
My quest through college was no easy feat. The truth is that I struggled just as much as I did as a young schoolgirl. I was terribly underprepared for the academic journey ahead. My night school schedule was full of remedial classes that extended an already daunting four-year plan. My nervous system was used to sensing external dangers in my environment and had little experience in problem-solving or critical thinking. My struggles were misinterpreted as danger and so I would fight or flee. It was so overwhelming that I could not sit still and often had to take exams separately from my college classes and at times in two sittings. I shied away from working with anyone for fear of being found out that I was broken and unimportant. These feelings were deep-seated beliefs that had developed over many years and it would take many more years to unlearn.
After decades of learning, exposure, and exploration, I finally accepted that I am worthy of a good education, career, family, and a beautiful new home. It was through trusting relationships that I allowed others to introduce me to new experiences. It took others to help me discover my talents and strengths that had been hidden under an overshadowing mentality of belonging in the periphery. Here and now, I write this as a 2nd generation American Latina and the first college graduate in my family. I was resilient and bold enough to dream, design, and pursue a life I wanted to live. I have a wonderful healthy family that thrives. I still frequent the old neighborhood to visit family and friends, and can now appreciate the many strengths that came out of my community and helped protect and enrich my life in many ways. I now step in to write for other Latinos, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color so that they too can have exposure to role models and career paths that will help change the trajectory of their lives.