Personal Stories by The Carolina Hispanic Association: Carlos Mendiola

My first year in college I walked in as an out of state student, excited to face any of the challenges college had to offer and tried to continue making everyone back home proud. Yet, as I continued on my path I learned that I am actually walking as a first generation, Hispanic, out of state student from a substandard high school. I have learned that this identity comes with a lot of baggage, and began to reach out for help. Yet, once I was here I could not identify with anyone and none of the resources I reached out to were doing me any favors. I contemplated dropping out and probably just transferring, but I could not let my community back home down.

Back in Houston, many of my greatest friends are at home wishing they could be in school as they wait to see what their work schedule allows them to do. Every time I come back, they are excited for me to share my experience, discuss the issues I face, and even teach them. All of them yearn to continue with school and to leave their current state, but because of failed high school practices and poor financial aid, I continue on for my friends.

Back home, my parents pray that I stay in school as they wait for me to come home to also share my experience with them. My parents do not know anything about college, they barely graduated high school back in Mexico and came to Houston hoping that I can achieve the American dream. They have worked up to three jobs at a time losing all types of sleep just so I don’t have to worry about finances, so every time we talk in person or on the phone, we hold back the struggles we are facing and continue forward for each other.

Which brings us to the issue of immigration. The people who migrate to the US have goals in mind, they are not criminals, rapists, or any of that nonsense. They face issues you could never imagine because they do not want the people supporting them to worry. We should not make their journey difficult because they come from another place, we should walk alongside them because they have decided that this place is one that would make them and their community back home a better one.  

Personal Stories by The Carolina Hispanic Association: Carlos Restrepo

When I first arrived to the United States, I was roughly around 5 years old and barely able to understand the big change that was occurring this early in my life. Born in Medellin, Colombia, I had to move to a new country at an early age, not by choice, but by my parents’ desires to find better opportunities for my sister and me, similar to the stories of other immigrant children. I had gone from Cartagena, Colombia to various New Jersey cities and finally ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina. There were so many challenges that my family and I faced when we made the big move from one country to the next.

One of my first challenges, of course, was the language barrier. It is very difficult for someone to learn a new language while at the same time still trying to sufficiently learn the first one. The majority of people coming from a different country will have this issue of a language barrier. What I found most difficult, though, was trying to balance both languages in order to not lose what I had already learned from each one.  And to add on to those challenges, I had to be able to serve as a translator for my whole family which is not as easy as you would think. As a young kid, I was forced to learn about adult related things like tax forms, employment paperwork, and government documents, and just about anything you could imagine that my mom would usually interact with but of course I had to translate. It forced me to grow up a bit faster than everyone else.

Trying to go to receive an education with little knowledge on the English language was also a huge issue I had growing up. I remember having to go through English Second Language (ESL) courses just so that I could learn English on top of the actual schooling that I needed to receive. I remember struggling so much with the language which only motivated me to do better in school; after only half a year of ESL, I was able to work hard enough to be put into regular classes, but a lot of students still struggle with these classes a bit more than I did.

When school wasn’t the issue, it was witnessing my mom struggle in the workforce. Not knowing much English and only having schooling from a third world country, there weren’t that many job opportunities out there for her where our family could successfully find a way out of poverty. After having different low wage jobs, she chose to go back to school and get another degree that would serve her better here than the one she received in our home country. I had seen my mom go through several undesirable jobs just so that she could provide a roof over our heads and a meal every day. It took a long time to get to where she is now but I have seen her take on so many challenges and successfully overcome them. My family struggled with poverty for a while because my mom was the only parent providing for me and my sister with such low paying jobs while also trying to study.

Aside from those issues, there was always a risk of losing my own culture that was definitely another concern I had growing up. Although now it is not that bad, when I was growing up there were not a lot of people from my own country in the area in which I grew up which meant that I was limited to what I could learn from my own Latinx culture to what my parents and some relatives taught me. It didn’t help that due to some special circumstances, I was unable to visit my home country for over 13 years. All of this meant that I was lacking influence from my own culture, which is an essential part of a person’s identity. I struggled to keep my identity as Latinx in a country that, at the time, showed very little interest in this ethnicity and contains people that believe that immigrants are here only “to steal jobs” or “take advantage of” the benefits provided by this country.

Growing up as an immigrant is one of the biggest reasons for why I am the person that I am today. Of course the problems I listed are just a very small portion of all the issues my family and I encountered over the years spent in this country; I think these are just some of the more important ones that can be applied to a large number of immigrant families.  

Politically Correct is Respect

If I had a nickel for every time someone deemed me as “too PC,” I’d be a very rich woman. Political correctness basically means that, before you open your mouth, you consider how your words will impact others (i.e. racism, sexism, etc.). You’re thoughtful, and you realize that words are not simply a meaningless conglomeration of letters and sounds.

Of course, nobody’s perfect. Most have, at some point in their lives, made a problematic comment that they probably regret. But imperfection is never an excuse to perpetuate oppression. Because we were all socialized in a racist, cishet patriarchal society, it’s important to constantly check and learn from one’s behavior. We have a collective responsibility to create a world that recognizes the full humanity of all people.

Being “politically correct,” though, is generally not celebrated nor encouraged. Typically used as a pejorative, the phrase “PC culture” has been routinely implemented to delegitimize marginalized populations’ experiences and efforts to dismantle oppressive systems. Although we generally think of conservative, right-wing public figures as the main disparagers of political correctness, white, male, liberal individuals also use this damaging rhetoric.

Jerry Seinfeld made headlines a couple years ago for vowing not to perform at “PC colleges.”

“I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me: ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC,’” he said. “They just want to use these words: ‘that’s racist,’ ‘that’s sexist,’ ‘that’s prejudiced.’ They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”

Apparently Seinfeld, a rich, white man, is the arbiter on what constitutes as racist, sexist or prejudiced. College students, many of which are people of color and women who experience racism and sexism on a daily basis, know what we’re talking about due to lived experiences those with privileged identities simply cannot relate to.

Additionally, Bill Maher, who has consistently opposed “PC culture,” recently received criticism for having Milo Yiannopoulos on his show Real Time with Bill Maher for normalizing the former editor of Breitbart, a right-wing media company known for publishing racist, sexist, transphobic content.

Language is central to how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. Words have consequences. They can be used for good—creating a healthy dialogue meant to advance social change. Conversely, language can also reinforce power structures. Offensive rhetoric that targets marginalized populations should be viewed as unacceptable and harmful, not simply a difference of opinion.