My Story…Laura Ranalleta
At Pre-Service Orientation, I realized that although I would be focusing on community engagement like many of my VISTA peers, my VISTA assignment was unique in that I would be targeting a very specific group in my outreach: Latino youth. And while I have experience working within the Latino community, my project would require more background knowledge and research to gain a really good understanding of the baseline.
That being said, for the past six months, I have been researching the Latino community in an effort to better understand the engagement and participation of Latinos in the Year Up program. The Year Up program seeks to close the Opportunity Divide by providing young urban adults with the skills, experience and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. .My main goal was to figure out where Latino youth are living in Chicago, what they are doing, and what some barriers might be that could prevent them from applying for or participating in the Year Up program.
Looking back on those six months, I have done a lot of research. I have looked at data, compiled statistics, and observed a number of processes that are already in place at Year Up, including outreach campaigns, admissions interviews, open house events, and more. Needless to say, I have uncovered some very interesting trends and statistics that will inform Year Up practices moving forward.
But beyond the statistics, one of the most important things I have learned throughout my research and my experience at Year Up is the true meaning of cultural competence. I have always been interested in working with diverse populations, especially Latinos, but I always worried that I wouldn’t be as effective at doing the work, since I don’t identify as Latina myself. I worried that taking on the role of an ally would create a barrier between myself and the individuals I was working with.
Now I understand that while it may be easier to find common ground with someone if you share the same background, it is not necessary when creating and maintaining relationships with people. The more important factor is that you are aware of how your own culture, beliefs, and values shape you as an individual, and what biases you may have as a result of those things.
That being said, I feel that my work within the Latino community can dissolve stereotypes that one must be Latino to understand and work effectively with Latinos. Like any racial/ethnic group, the Latino culture doesn’t define all Latino individuals. While there are cultural considerations to take into account when working within the Latino community, overall, in any ethnic group, every individual is different, and it is important to remember that.
So remember VISTAs: Be aware, be honest, be authentic, and never be afraid to bring your unique perspective to the table!