The piece below was written by Cynthia Diaz. She was my student at Rutgers during the 2015-16 school year. She graduated with her BASW in May and is working on her Masters at Fordham. She is currently interning at Advocates for Children in New York City. I asked her to write an article for me about her life, why she chose social work and what she hopes to do with her degree.
After Tuesday’s presidential election, I expect that Latino families will experience more of these problems and will have a harder time accessing services. Cynthia’s childhood serves as a reminder about the struggles that many members of the Latino community experience.
As a daughter of low-income Latino immigrant parents, I experienced a great deal of adversity growing up. I was surrounded by people who believed in a patriarchal society and domestic violence was a norm in my household. I witnessed my mom struggle with depression and endure domestic abuse. I never understood why this was or why she let it continue. It made me resentful and angry. Throughout elementary school, my mother struggled to help me with my homework; she only completed elementary school and did not know any English. I’ll always remember my mother sitting next to me with a Spanish- English dictionary as she translated the instructions for my homework. These struggles are common for Latino families. Unknowingly, I prepared for a career in social work as a child. As soon as I was fluent in both English and Spanish, I became the translator for my family and friends. I attended others parent-teacher conferences and went along to social service agencies to help my older cousins get help for their children.
I was the first person in my family to apply to college. My parents did not see any value in it so they did not support me. My mother wanted me to go to a county college so I could continue to look after my sister. I chose to attend Rutgers instead. Right before moving into the dorm, my father kicked me out of the house and forbid me from coming home. Leaving my hometown and being estranged from my father was quite stressful. It was difficult to maintain a good relationship with my mother after this because I was so hurt that she did not stick up for me. If I wanted to visit my mother and sister, I would stay at a friend’s house and only stop by when my father was not around. I felt lost and alone during my first two years of college, and I turned to alcohol instead of talking to people about my problems. I skipped class and did terrible my first year. I never thought about seeking help.
My little sister was growing up fast and I realized I had to change my lifestyle. I recognized that a business degree was not for me. I spent a summer working for AMARD&V (Artists Mentoring against Racism, Drugs, and Violence) and witnessed the numerous obstacles that Latino students have. I identified with problems they were facing but had no idea how to help them. Many of them had problems at home and did not feel safe. Some of them were only 11 years old. I did what I could – I listened to them and provided them with a safe place to go. This experience made me think about how my life was growing up, and how different my home life, education and relationships could have been if I had someone who understood and guided me.
After that summer, I realized that I could use my experiences to help others. Maya Angelou said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” My experiences with domestic violence, lack of educational support, familial estrangement, and heavy teenage drinking could help me relate to others. I went to the School of Social Work to talk to the director of the BASW program. It was obvious that I should pursue a social work degree. The director and my professors made it clear that I could not just rely on my experiences to help others – that I would need to develop clinical skills, learn about social service resources, and maintain healthy boundaries with my clients.
I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Social Work last spring. It was a great accomplishment that I am very proud of. But I knew if I wanted to make a real difference that I had get a Master’s degree. I’m currently enrolled in Fordham University’s School of Social Service in the leadership and macro practice concentration. I’m interested in policies regarding children, families, and the Latino community. I want to advocate and help those who feel as if their voices can’t be heard. But I can’t just advocate for them – I know that I have to help them advocate for themselves. I hope to learn how to take leadership roles as both a female and a Latina. My life is just getting started. There is so much I want to see and do, and so many people I want to help. I have a strong urge to dive in and help people wherever I go. My professor and supervisors help me understand the big picture. They have taught me about the importance of education, training, consultation, supervision, healthy boundaries, and self-care. I’m 23 and they caution patience. I listen because I want to do this for the long haul.