I remember making “cultural projects” with the paper dolls in Mexican dresses, holding one Mexican flag and one Italian flag in each hand. Those dolls looked nothing like me. Sure, I could say that I was of Hispanic and European heritage. I surely had the skin color and surname, but it didn’t always feel that way.
My heritage is remarkably American. My family has lived in California for almost a century, and in the Central Valley for more than half a century. The story of a bi-cultural American who is now part of the majority minority. I don’t know my heritage–the beliefs traditions of my family’s people groups–very well. However, the way I was raised still felt traditional.
I grew up being told that I was a smart. Bright. Kind. Repsectful. I made my parents proud by doing well in school. I never received lower than a 3.7 GPA, always followed the rules, and therefore was worthy of being bragged about to my parents’ family and friends.
My parents carried on the tradition of ensuring that their child would have a better life than they did. They made it possible for me to pursue a higher education. I made it my goal to get my degree but never thought much beyond that until recently.
My family was my primary motivation, until I discovered I had the courage within me to pursue my own dreams. Of course my education is still a top priority in my life, but it’s not the only thing I care about. Faith, friendship, service and leadership have also become priorities, but they’re things not on my parents’ agenda. Sometimes, I think they wish I was a little less involved.
I dedicate my time to teaching others about the importance of servant-leadership through my position at the Richter Center. I get to play a role in the development of the staff through Dog Days, and welcome thousands of new students. I walk alongside junior high and college students at church as they pursue a faith of their own, separate of their family’s heirtage. I enjoy making connections with people of diverse backgrounds and learning more about the way they’ve been impacted by their upbringing.
I believe my choices will make my family proud, even if they’re a bit unconventional for my heritage.
-Erika D. Castañon