Stories of Rising Up: The Crucial Role of Latinx Role Models

The idea behind Rising Up: Create Your Own Path came from firsthand experience of how crucial role models can be for dual-language students. As a teacher at a dual- language school in Fremont, California, I prepared my students for the state writing test by assigning them frequent writing prompts.

One day, I asked them to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up. My Spanish speakers all wrote that they wanted to be cooks, gardeners, and housekeepers– roles consistent with their parents’ occupations. These are all honorable occupations, ones that allowed their parents to provide for their families. But the exercise made it very clear to me that the students did not have any professional role models in their lives– and that lack of possibilities was limiting what they could envision for their futures.

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To expose my students to other occupations that could broaden their perspectives, I held a Latinx Professional Career Day. I invited Spanish bilingual professionals, including doctors, attorneys, therapists, and many others to talk with my students. The next day, I asked them once again to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Every student responded by writing about the professions the class had been exposed to. It was a crystal-clear demonstration of the importance of exposing students to professional role models who look and speak like them.

I continued to host Latinx Career Days throughout my career. Eventually, I realized that I needed a way to reach many more schools and students. A book could have that reach.

Continue reading to find out more about Rising Up…

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I began to seek contributors for the book, looking for Latinx in a wide range of jobs that would be willing to write about their career paths, struggles, and triumphs. The 15 contributors to Rising Up, cross generations, come from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and work across many professional occupations. We and/or our parents are from Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano/a, Guatemalan, Colombian, Salvadoran, Cuban, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, and Nicaraguan backgrounds. We range from 18 to 70 years old. Our occupations are wide and varied: student, bilingual life coach, writer, marriage and family therapist, mechanical engineer, technology consultant, attorney, doctor, diversity and inclusion consultant, financial representative, educator, policy analyst, transportation and planning analyst, and dean of international studies. We come from families in which we are the first to attend college, and from families with well-educated parents who have experienced challenges due to ethnic background. Each of us took a unique path to get where we are today.

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We also have many things in common. We’ve faced adversity, discrimination, and socioeconomic or familial challenges– and overcome them. We’re invested in our education, formal and informal. We’re all devoted to ongoing learning. We have embraced our differences, and are proud of who we are. We took risks, went against the norm, and spoke up when it was our time.

We worked hard and used the resources we had. We’ve had help from family, teachers, friends, and mentors along the way and we acknowledge the role models in our lives. We’ve been true to ourselves. We honor our experience, our story, our culture, our language, and our heritage. We are grateful for our journeys, despite the financial, physical, or emotional challenges we faced. And we’re passionate about inclusion, giving back to our families and communities, and mentoring others.

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Rising Up is for students of all ages. We hope that students and teachers will use this book to stimulate discussion and inspire "what if" dreams, long-term goals, and aspirations that help students soar beyond their current environments.

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