Being the Brown Girl in a White, Wealthy High School

Oh, high school how I don’t miss you. You were so tough on me, but you taught me so much about myself and what I am capable of. It’s true what they say about you’re only given as much as you can handle. This piece is for you, you in any kind of marginalized community.

So why was high school so tough for me? Before I can answer that I have to open up about myself. I’m a first generation Salvadoran American. I was born and raised in Costa Mesa, but I lived right on the edge of it. So I ended up going to high school in Newport Beach. Remember that one show about those rich high school students living in Newport Harbor? I was and still am the polar opposite of those kids, but that’s sort of the environment I was thrown into.

Newport Harbor High School is the whitest school I’ve ever seen, I mean literally every time I stepped out of the science building the sun’s rays would reflect off the building and it hurt to open my eyes. Jokes aside though, the school lacked diversity, even within its staff. It’s not necessarily the school’s fault though. Not many people of color can afford to live in Newport Beach and so most people of color, like me, lived close enough to Newport Beach that we had to go to Newport Harbor High School. It was a blessing and a curse, NHHS definitely has a great academic program, and it offers both AP and IB courses.

I’ve always loved academia and challenging myself, I didn’t really know what AP courses were, but I decided to take my first AP course my sophomore year. It was very different than the ‘regular’ courses I had taken my freshman year. When I first stepped into the room, I knew no one. There was not a single person of color in that classroom. This was the first time the imposter syndrome kicked in. I immediately felt like I did not belong. ‘What am I doing here? This class is going to be so tough, this is too advanced for me. Everyone here seems so smart, I’m not smart enough to be in here.’ Unfortunately for me, I began to internalize all of that. I would never raise my hand and my heart would sink into my stomach if I was randomly called on, even if I knew the answer.

Yet I kept on pushing, and I kept on taking AP courses because I knew I was college bound, and I would be the first in my family to go to college. As I started doing my research on colleges, I began learning how expensive it was. That was when I asked my parents if they had any money saved up for me to go to college. I will never forget what my mom said next. She said “no que te van a dar becas?” (“aren’t they going to give you scholarships?”), and that’s when I knew that my parents didn’t know anything about the education system.

It was then that I started to realize too it’s not that the white kids in my AP classes were more talented than me, but they were definitely A LOT more privileged than me. They had parents who could teach them how to get into college. They had the financial resources to pay for tutors and fees for SATs, ACTs, and Subject SATs. And even more so than that, they were privileged enough to be secure with themselves. They never had to walk into a room of their peers and not have at least one friend in the room. Or feel like they didn’t deserve to be in that room. They never had to walk into AP English Language and ever doubt their English wasn’t more than perfect. They were privileged enough to have parents who understood the education system, parents that knew what it meant to be enrolled in AP and/or IB courses.

I can sit here and write about every adversity I ever faced in high school, and every financial, emotional, and gender barrier that I ever had to cross. I could sit here and even write about every racist encounter I ever had. I can sit here and tell you how I couldn’t even turn to my teachers because none of them looked like me, so how could they relate? But that would be missing the point. The point is, as people of color, women of color, LGBT and of color, first generation, immigrant, what have you, we are resilient. Yes, high school was sometimes AWFUL. I know you will make it though because I once was you. I was once the anxious and quiet brown girl who kept to herself. The girl with bags under her eyes because she had to reach her goals herself. I  promise you that you can do it. You can make it through, all the way through. Yes, you may have to work twice as hard as your white counterparts. Is it fair? No. But let me tell you something, if you can make it through the race with twice as many hurdles as your peers, you are deserving of every achievement. Find your support system, create goals for yourself, and don’t ever doubt yourself for being in the room.

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Jessica Rosales

Jessica Rosales

Jessy Rosales is a Salvadoran American and a huge advocate for reproductive justice. As a first-generation American student, she single-handedly navigated her way through the education system. Growing up her parents always emphasized the importance of higher education, and with that in her heart she finished her undergraduate career at the University of California, Riverside and majored in Media and Cultural Studies. Jessy is currently an organizing fellow with NARAL Pro-Choice America and is very active in the fight for reproductive justice. She is now also contributing to La Comadre in hopes that she can help and inspire current students.

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