For our final presentations we were tasked to answer the following question: What did you learn this summer?
This summer, I learned how to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Marisol.” Marisol pronounced Mah-ree-sole not Mare-ri-soul. It’s not that I learned how to pronounce my name in Spanish for the first time. But instead, for the first time I learned how to own it and be proud of who I am and where I come from-even in an intimidating city like DC.
I didn’t always feel this sense of belonging, gratitude, and empowerment.
My parents immigrated to the US when they were 16 and 17 years old. Their lack of legal status gave them no other choice but to work in the fields and package fruit. This meant their income was always unpredictable and unstable, they worked long hours all year-round without benefits. I could not pursue after-school activities because I felt an obligation to provide since the age of 14.
I hated my life. I was tired of always suffering. I was afraid all the time. I looked in the mirror and felt ugly– ashamed that my name was hard to pronounce, ashamed of my bushy eyebrows, hairy arms, dark hair, eyes, and skin- and my families circumstances. I wanted to be anything, but MARISOL.
When I first found out I was placed with Mary’s Center, I was a bit disappointed. I had no interest in health care. But that quickly changed to gratitude. Healthcare, education, and social services were all issues I knew too well. It was a full circle moment for me. Having once benefited from community programs to now having the opportunity to work on the communications team of one.
Lyda, Grisel, and Jessica have all been affirmations for my career path. Lyda and Grisel are both Latina immigrants, who work on perfecting their English every day. They represent my mother’s American dream; education, freedom to travel, and professional career. These women have given me a sense of belonging in spaces I once believed were not for me. Jessica, a US citizen who has previously worked in the federal government but chose to learn Spanish and work for marginalized communities– reaffirmed that my purpose is also to use the privileges I do have to help my own community.
This was my first experience working in public interest communications. I have always considered myself a writer and artist, but never an advocate. There was no strategy to the pieces I have written and painted; they simply reflected my reality. As I learned more about the other host-organizations and the issues they covered; education and healthcare access, climate change, human and labor rights, and community development– I could not help but think about how all of these issues affect my parents, however they aren’t as informed as I am.
Why didn’t they know about these issues? They dropped out of school in the sixth grade, but that doesn’t mean they’re not able to grasp intelligence. I came to the conclusion that awareness and advocacy work is not meant for people like my parents. The audience does not consist of the individuals impacted. When we talk about public interest communication, the messages are aimed towards decision makers. So who really is the public? And how do we determine their best interests, without a voice from the actual affected community in the decision-making process?
If the issue is truly a public matter– the communication and media should be done in the language of the people who are impacted. There are 42 million people in the US that speak Spanish as their first language, 42 million individuals that have no idea how to advocate for themselves because of language barriers. It can be easy to say that Spanish media exists and that non-profit organizations can hire translators. But why does advocacy have to be solely in one language? Why not have organizations produce bilingual communication from the beginning? If the people are what motivate mission-driven work, then why have we forgotten about them?
So yes, this summer I learned how to introduce myself. I learned that saying my name in its native pronunciation honors my mother and grandmother who could only dream of the opportunities I have had. I realized that I am tired of conforming to English-only speakers. My name is Marisol not Maresawl. I speak two languages, I write in two languages, I read, cry, and laugh in two languages, and I now advocate in two languages. That is what makes me, me.
I speak for the other little Hispanic girls that feel embarrassed of their roots. I am proud to be bilingual. I am proud to be the daughter of migrant farmworkers. I am proud of the struggles that fueled my ambition. I am proud to say that everything I do is to one day give my community the better lives they deserve; that is my mission. Mission-driven work should be accessible to those who give meaning to the mission. We can not promise to make the world a better place and solve social problems by only communicating in one language. I hope this inspires us all to better represent and include the communities we serve, in their native tongues.