Talley Student Center housed, yet, another insightful program on behalf of Hispanic Heritage Month, which focused on Latin American women and their lives of adjustment, assimilation into mainstream America, and their struggles within their own culture, all in pursuit of higher education. Multicultural Student Affairs and the Women’s Center co-sponsored a group of four panelists for the Latina Experience program who each earned a degree from a post secondary institute. Each of them have different experiences in relation to geographic location, barriers within individual cultures under the Latino umbrella. They continue to empower themselves through the development of programs to enhance the Latin American experience for students wishing to further their education.

Irene Godinez is a native of Durham, North Carolina, although, her lineage traces to her Mexican heritage. She is not only an NC State alumna; she has earned the title of director of advocacy within the El Pueblo organization, were she continues to seek out Latino youth in hopes to inspire them to consider higher education. She is actively leading the campaign against local government policies that prohibit non-documented citizens from acquiring admission to community colleges within North Carolina. Andrea Hernandez, also an NC State alumna, was the first female recipient of the Leader of the Pack award. Her ambitious, larger-than-life attitude has placed her in New York City, teaching math at the Bronx Preparatory Charter School, and is completing her fourth year as a PhD candidate in mathematics at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. A native of Bogota, Colombia, she has dedicated her summers to traveling the country and participating in seminars on behalf of Duke University’s TIP Program, in order to prepare advanced high school students and college freshmen to college.

Jezzette Rivera, of West Hartford, Connecticut, is a junior at NC State, majoring in Criminology and Political Science. She serves as President of Mi Familia, a social organization geared towards enhancing Latino’s political involvement in the community, and seeks to educate the general body about Latino culture. Rivera has served as co-chair to Service Raleigh 2008, participates in the University Scholar’s Program, and has worked as a resident advisor in Sullivan Hall. Finally, Consuelo Rodriguez traveled to the US in 1967 from her home of Medellin, Colombia and decided to make America her new home. She earned a certificate in accounting from Miami-Dade and an AA in business administration. She spends most of her time working with the Spanish community, through non-profit programs, and is, currently, learning her fourth language, Italian. Her travels to Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean keep her abreast of current global issues.

Each of these women had unique experiences to share with attendees, including assimilation into American culture, work experience and prejudices that occur within society and corporate America. Hernandez, reflected on a situation with a past employer when he referred to another Latina woman as “hot” and continued to express unprofessional thoughts about his future with her after he completed the interview. Furious with his attitude about Latina women, Hernandez approached her supervisor, held a private conference and resigned on the spot. While each panelist had diverse experiences in their lives, they all agreed that Latina women have had to fight several stereotypes, work through bouts of culture shock, and stay grounded in their studies during it all, for each woman was encourage by parents to strive for more in life than what society has expected.

“Privilege is what separates us from mainstream Americans,” stated Godinez, as a reflection of one of the major drawbacks about the American lifestyle. She also talked about her struggle with age discrimination on top of the labels that people see when they notice her ethnicity. “Over the phone, they can’t see what I look like; when they meet me, they are surprised,” she said. In most cases, the parents of these women were very little or poorly educated, struggled financially to provide for their families and were either immigrants, non-documented or legal. Nikki Gallion, a junior in Business Management-Human Resources said, “Motivation and wanting to further their education came from their families who pushed them; each woman’s family came to the U.S. for better opportunities, knowing they would have to start from scratch.”

Whatever the case, however different or similar, these women are true leaders within their communities, and are embracing their identities each step during their journeys as successfully educated Latina women of the 21st century. Rivera said, “The purpose of the program was to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by getting an in depth perspective of the hardships and obstacles faced by Latinas in our society. It served as a great way for students to develop a unique understanding of the culture and how each individual has their own story to share.” Although adversity, confusion, and debate have been at the forefront of “validating” their cultural diversity and abilities, each woman affirmed their position on Latino stereotypes, such as legal citizenship, poorly educated and unaware of American culture and language, from non-Latinos and have grown to challenge those same thoughts within the Latino community as well. “These stereotypes were created by us, and have just been replicated into society,” stated Hernandez, “like any other minority group.”