The plane took off and I cried tears of joy. I left the small world of Pacific Avenue and broke through the boundary of impossibility. The opportunity to visit Spain with a scholarship to study Picasso and Flamenco was something my family never imagined. For my parents, immigrants from a poor region in Mexico without a high school education, sending me abroad was out of the question. Luckily for them, I dream big.
My tears represented all that I had achieved in the last two months. As the plane soared into the air, I thought back to that fateful night.
The lump in my throat was incessant but I mustered the courage to ask for my parent’s permission to go on this month-long program with nine other students and travel on my own. They denied my pleas. “Tienes que estar contenta con lo que te podemos dar ma” was all my dad had to say to break my heart. His message was loud and clear- a little Oaxacan girl did not have enough money to experience something outside of her small world. I could see in my parents’ eyes that it broke them to deny me something because they could not afford it. Just the way their own parents in Mexico felt when they were young, unable to afford a new dress or something to eat.
This rejection, however, propelled me into action. The very next day, I went to my counselor who had nominated me for the program to brainstorm how to make my dream happen. Through perseverance and open communication, I finally convinced my parents to let me go. That night, in our small apartment, we formed a team to work together to fundraise the remaining cost of the program.
I started right away by I negotiated a free booth at my local farmers market and worked around the clock with the help of my mom to cook tamales and sell them on Sunday mornings. I started up my GoFundMe page to put my struggles and dreams out there and gain support. In the midst of this, I also baked brownies from scratch every night to sell them at school. My chocolate and cherry brownies became my life for months.
With the money in my hand, I ran to my counselor; I was to study art and dance in Spain and I had done it with all of my coordination and hard work. This perseverance allowed me to live the unimaginable, and empowered me in a way I had never felt before.
It is difficult to explain in detail all the streets, people, art pieces and churches I saw over the four weeks of the program. The riches of royal palaces put into perspective my life growing up. While many were handed luxury, my mother worked day and night hand making tortillas to buy us something to eat. I am no longer ashamed to be a low-income student, I am forever grateful.
However, what struck me the most were the similarities between Spain and my village in Mexico. Exploring Spain and its history allowed me to come to terms with the fact that colonialism has deeply affected my people and culture, both positively and negatively. I connected with my friend and group mate, Sokhnadiarra, whose parents are from Senegal and so she too is directly impacted by European colonialism.
However, I was surprised when she said that even through colonialism and American assimilation, I am excited to learn about my culture and native land that is miles away. I spoke about my family and culture with pride, teaching others about my food, clothing, music, dance, and language instead of only focusing on the poverty.
It stunned me then that being Oaxacan has shaped my identity. I am proud to share my heritage with others. I am not one hundred percent one thing; I have Spanish blood and influence as an indigenous Zapotec. It’s the reason I speak both Spanish and Zapoteco at home. Without the blend of these two different cultures, my family and my pueblo would not exist in the unique way they do now.
I went to Spain to explore my passion for art. More than this, I reflected on my identity and grow my perspective of the world. All the adventures that lead up to the final day of the trip hit me with an epiphany: I don’t want to stay in one place, I want to explore and experience everything I can about every culture, because every time I do, it brings me closer to my own. Even more, I have unlocked the confidence that lived dormant inside me for so long. I am no longer afraid to reach beyond the possible and push myself forward, regardless of the setbacks I encounter. The more boundaries I climb over, the more paths unlock for me to seize and run.