“The world is your school and education is always around – don’t let your biases stop you from wanting to broaden your mind and learning about the many cultures that surround you”

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While you were growing up who did you see in the media that looked like you?
The one person who I’ve always looked up to and resonated with being a Latina, was the Mexican singer Selena. Of course, she unfortunately passed away when I was young but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t a prominent figure in my childhood. To this day I still listen to her music every day and her story was very inspiring. Her parents uprooted their entire life to devote themselves to helping Selena achieve success – and after a few hard times she eventually became one of the biggest names in the music industry. As a Latina, it’s so wonderful to hear people from our group achieving success because we hear of it so little compared to White Americans.
In school who did you learn about that looked like you or had similar experiences to you? 
Come to think of it…I don’t think I learned about many Hispanic people in my school. Its pretty sad to come to that conclusion but besides being in Spanish class (because it’s mandatory to take a foreign language in high school), I really didn’t hear much of my culture. What I learned, I learned through my family and my own research/experience.
Why do you think diversity and representation is important?
I believe that diversity and representation is important because we are all here. We all live on this planet together. So why focus on one group of people? The beauty of culture is that it can be shared. There is so much to learn about our environment, your specific group of people can only teach you so much. We need to open our minds and see the world through the many eyes that inhabit it, not just ours. I am a Latina, but my worldly lens differs from someone of the African-American descent and so forth. Which is why it’s so important to have representation and diversity in schools and in the media. There are children today watching television, thinking that the experiences of a white person is equal to the experiences that they will have growing up, which isn’t the case. We need to show them the characters in television shows that portray life experiences that a POC would have, because unfortunately, if your skin isn’t white you’re not going to have it as easy as everyone else. Show them they’re not alone.
Unfortunately, the media has an issue with this and it’s sad. We have movies that are clearly aimed towards a specific group but have their main character a completely different race. We have POC characters that don’t get the amount of screen time they deserve (Teen Wolf – Arden Cho), and we have POC characters dying for no reason except for entertainment.
Hopefully with time and education, this issue will diminish. But until then, it’s important to know that learning does not stop at school. The world is your school and education is always around – don’t let your biases stop you from wanting to broaden your mind and learning about the many cultures that surround you.
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“I didn’t learn anything about what it means to be Afro-Latina”

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While you were growing up who did you see in the media that looked like you?

I don’t really remember seeing people who looked like me. The only person who I could vaguely relate to was America Ferrera when she was in the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. Even then, she did not look like me much. She was of a lighter skin tone and had straight/wavy hair while I’m more tan with big curly hair.
In school who did you learn about that looked like you or had similar experiences to you?
Ha, no one. I didn’t learn anything about the Dominican culture or what it means to be Afro-Latina. We skimmed through black men and white woman with great achievements but when it came to women of color, I didn’t learn anything. And even as I finished my senior year of high school, I still have yet to learn about women who look like me or women of color or women in Latin America. The only time we learned of Latin American leaders was in the context of their role in the trials and tribulations of American Manifest Destiny. Of course, they taught us about the Haitian Revolution but only because it later galvanized a set of revolutions in European countries. I explore more of the lack of diverse history taught in America in this piece I wrote. See below:
Why do you think diversity and representation is important? 
My favorite author Junot Diaz once said something along the lines of, monsters don’t have reflections in mirrors and that’s how I felt growing up, never seeing anyone who looked like me. Without proper representation, children growing up will never have their appearances or cultures validated. They will always be looking to assimilate and adjust to the images prevalent in the media, images that encourage people of color to abandon their culture. Representation I believe helps foster self- love. By seeing those who look like you, you can begin to accept who you are, where you came from and the lives of those before you.

“We were taught that deep inside, people throughout the world are all the same, but that we all experience life differently.”

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 There weren’t a lot of people in the media that looked like me growing up. I remember the characters that came closest to looking like me came from the cartoons that I would watch, like Penny from “The Proud Family” and Alex from “Totally Spies.” At the time, I don’t think that I consciously focused on how there wasn’t a lot of representation in the media, but I do remember not having a lot of role models because I didn’t feel as intensely connected to them. Looking back at it now, I can see why my friends wanted to emulate celebrity role models like 4/5ths of the Spice Girls and Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus- it was easy for them to relate to these people because my friends could easily make themselves look like them. It was easy for them to look like their favorite Disney princess and I knew that I could never pass as Ariel. My sister has darker skin than I do and I know that her choice of role models that looked like her was even smaller than mine. I don’t think that it ever bothered me too much when I was younger, but now that I can look and see little girls so happy to have American Girl dolls that look exactly like them or being able to dress up like Tiana or Mulan, I don’t want for any child to ever have to feel even slightly bothered by the lack of diversity that they see in their lives.
In first grade, we learned that Squanto was a friend of the Pilgrims. In 11th grade, we learned that even though the Pilgrims might have not killed Squanto, they sure as hell wiped out nearly an entire race of people. We learned about all of the countries in the world, but we never talked about the diverse makeup of the population of our own country. We never talked much about diversity in school, but my parents always made sure to teach my siblings and I about what all was going on in the world. We were taught that deep inside, people throughout the world are all the same, but that we all experience life differently. Just because someone did not live the same way or look the same way that we did, it did not mean that their life was wrong in any way. So while I may have lacked learning about people who looked like me in school, I was fortunate enough to know that I wasn’t the only person in the world that looked like how I did. I think that this helped me work around the lack of representation because I’d learned enough about the world to know that these marginalized communities existed and that it wasn’t just one group that was being silenced. I knew that if enough people all felt the same way then they would soon find a voice for themselves that the rest of the world would hear.

When I was little, some of the kids that I went to school with would ask me if my sister and I had the same father because her skin is darker than mine. Even though I’ve always lived in the United States, my first name is Samaria, and so I sometimes get the “oh, where are you from? Are your parents from here? Are you a citizen? What’s your first language?” kinds of questions. Recently, people have been more hesitant before asking me those things because I think that they’re learning that it’s not very polite to go full scale police investigation on someone that you just met in the supermarket.

 And I don’t think that I’ve ever necessarily been offended by people asking me these questions, but it bothers me that it’s usually the people that I barely know that jump straight into these questions. Like, maybe try and get to know me as a person first before you ask for information that doesn’t concern you.
I think that the first time I really stopped to think about the importance of representation in the media was when Disney announced the release of ‘Moana.’ In the United States, a lot of underrepresented cultures are gaining platforms to spread their messages, but I’ve never seen much of anything in the news about the nations of the Pacific. People of color make up the majority of the world and have the ability to use their gifts to reach many people. Representation is encouraging because it shows solidarity within communities. It lets people know that you exist as a person and that your culture is important enough to be talked about. The world is a large place filled with many different types of people, so there is no excuse for the same anglicized narrative to repeatedly be the only one that is heard. Just because people don’t currently know about you, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t know about you. POC currently lack representation in the Western media. It’s discouraging to try and enter a field where you feel as though no one can relate to your experiences, but there are people out there who can connect with you. I know that in the future, people of all races, genders, sexual identities, and mental and physical abilities will have a way to voice their opinions and be heard. I think that the future starts with this generation.