This is a personal essay submitted by a wonderful, driven and motivated young lady, Kyana Aguirre.
Finding Privilege in an Underprivileged Community
Growing up in the South Bronx has given me a unique opportunity to get to know people of many different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. In spite of the fact that I was not born into wealth, being part of a multi-cultural environment has enriched my life in many ways and has given me a true understanding of the things that matter most in life such as family relationships, cultural understanding, religious faith, and an internal sense of national pride. These are elements which form the foundation of strong communities and are what inspire a true sense of belonging within each of us. As far back as I can remember I felt privileged to be growing up in a cultural environment that valued my individual creative talents, abilities, and strengths. The support that I have received from my family and friends over the course of my life has encouraged me to strive to become the best that I can be and to reach the highest level of personal achievement and inclusion within my community. My community has also been a source of hope that has helped me to overcome many of the obstacles that I have encountered along life’s journey. Being raised without a lot of money has enabled me to develop a strong sense of personal values in terms of my relationships with other people. I have learned that building enduring relationships with my family and people in my community are more important than the acquisition of material wealth. Even though my family was poor, we were very fortunate. My sister Briana and I were always well fed, warmly dressed and guided by positive manners. The funny thing is that I never knew I was poor. We did not have a view of living in poverty or coming from a poor community.
New Beginnings, New Outlook
When my mother decided to move from the South Bronx neighborhood where I was born to a different community, I had to make a new start in life in terms of leaving behind old friends and environmental circumstances. I had to attend a new school, make new friends, and develop new interests so that I could fit into my new cultural environment and not be viewed as an outsider to my peers. As a young Latino teenager adjusting to a new set of environmental circumstances I came to realize that I did not have the same advantages as my peers of color and that I needed to work that much harder to accomplish the same goals as my friends. I recognize the fact that money and racial background play an important role in social privilege in our society which is why it is important for teenagers of ethnic to be self-confident in their abilities so they can empower themselves to aspire to same opportunities for success as those who are racially advantaged in our culture.
Empowerment Through Positive Thinking
In order to build a strong emotional foundation within myself that would generate the self-assurance and drive that I need to empower me toward success I knew that I had to change my way of thinking. I needed to draw upon my inner strengths and adopt a healthy, more positive outlook on life, one that would inspire a higher level of self-esteem in me and the confidence of those with who I come in contact. I recognize that it is extremely important for teenagers especially those of ethnic background to remain positive because this is what gives them the hope that drives them to overcome social and economic obstacles so that they can achieve success both in school and in life. I believe very strongly that self-confidence and a healthy outlook are the key elements that enable teenagers from poor backgrounds to become survivors with the ability to overcome adversity and become part of the mainstream culture.
As a Latina teenager growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, I have had to face many significant life challenges and have learned to cope with a host of social disadvantages in order to become the person that I am today. My life experience has taught me that it is very important to never give up on your dreams because it is those dreams that can open the doors from which opportunities can bring. I have also learned that one of the best ways to make one’s dreams a reality is through the development of a strong system of social support comprised of family, friends, and mentors in my community. These are the individuals that have become my role models and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Through their influence I have learned how to apply the fundamental principles of human rights advocacy to my struggle for basic equality and human dignity.
About Kyana L. Aguirre
Kyana L. Aguirre is an honor student at knicker Backer Middle school. She loves technology, reading, dance and design. In her spare time you will find her dancing, playing technology games and spending time with friends. She also enjoys traveling, church and spending time with her family. She is an active member of her school chorus and involved in many cultural activities that are geared to making a difference in the lives of young people in the Latino community. Kyana L. Aguirre is mentored by Marian M. Inguanzo, MSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM.