Growing up Mexican American in predominantly African-American and Caucasian Durham, NC definitely had its advantages and disadvantages for Irene Godinez. Though her parents emphasized their Mexican American culture, Godinez admits to not be able to completely identify with the idea of growing up in a Hispanic neighborhood. Her first exposure to Hispanics of different nationalities did not occur until her college years when she transferred to N.C. State. From this initial exposure blossomed her desire to form an organization that would not only assist and uplift the Latino community but also establish a network of friends. Some opposition came from the Hispanic community, “You can’t assume there is instant solidarity and instabond just because we share the same language or sometimes culture.” Godinez acknowledges that she was a shy person and forming instant friendships was difficult, however from her announcement at a Mi Familia meeting regarding formation of a Latina sorority stemmed the Rho chapter of Lambda Pi Chi.
As a political science transfer student, Ms. Godinez realized that there were not many minorities in her program though CHASS is celebrated for its contributions to diversity at NC State. “You can aim for diversity all you want but if you don’t have the infrastructure to ensure that these students succeed. It doesn’t matter that they graduated top of their class or that they’re bright. But if there isn’t support, a lot [of students] are leaving their families for the very first time. First time leaving state or some people, their countries or cities. I don’t think there is enough infrastructure for students coming from historically oppressed communities.” She could have been like other students before her and simply fallen through the cracks of the education system. As a transfer student she didn’t find any avenues that she could use to seek help. From her perspective growing up, asking for help was like admitting that something was wrong with her, or that she didn’t deserve to be there. The Godinez family’s continued support of higher education motivated her to pursue not only her Bachelor’s but a Masters in Political science. Though it came during the later part of her undergraduate career she credits Dr. Monica Leach with helping her develop a full grasp on the ins and outs of student life.
Continuing with her goal of helping the Latino community, Ms. Godinez serves as Advocacy Director and Lobbyist for El Pueblo. El Pueblo is non-profit organization that has been in existence for the past 15 years which seeks to strengthen the Latino community. It achieves this goal by establishing health programs, public safety programs; with emphasis on gang prevention, child passenger safety and DWI prevention. Two main events, are the Latino Issues Forum on March 13 and 14, as well as La Fiesta del Pueblo held in the fall of each year. Seeking to change the notion of what a young Latina is or should be, Ms. Godinez monitors legislation by the NC General Assembly and shares immigration policy information with everyone whether on local, state, or federal level. Some Legislators at the NC General Assembly are under the impression that if it says “Latino” it only applies to Latinos. “We all have a stake in this issue [immigration.] We can’t just say let the Latinos solve their own problems. We are all interconnected and what happens to us affects everybody.”
Words of encouragement: Embrace these challenges before us because within each challenge is an opportunity. It’s so easy to get bogged down, close ourselves off, and be very discouraged because we are not getting grades we want or relating to peers. It’s so easy to get discouraged things will always get better and they will get better. We have to capitalize on each of these challenges.