Keep an open mind while battling stereotypes

By Ylianna Guerra

   Growing up in McAllen, a population that is 90 percent Mexican-American, I never thought much about being unique.

It wasn’t until last summer when I took college courses in England at the Cambridge College Programme, did students asked me questions such as: “Do you ride a horse to school?” “Does everyone speak Spanish?” “Did you have a Quinceañera?” “Is this the first time you’ve left Texas?” “Do you put hot sauce on everything?”

My Cambridge classmates’ questions were fairly harmless; however the pervasiveness of these stereotypes opened my eyes to the ways in which these one-dimensional perceptions might restrict a minority’s ability to move freely through society and life.

There are shades of truth in some of these assumptions. I learned Spanish first because my mother insisted I learn the language so I would never forget where I came from or who I was.

Every Sunday, my family goes to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church where my father went to school as a boy, and where my sister and I attended. Afterwards, we take pan dulce (sweet bread) to my Grandma’s house, where we usually find her watching Mexican telenovelas in her lounger. We eat a supper of menudo, with pan dulce for dessert.

I don’t ride a horse to school, but I do walk in the paths carved by my ancestors. I know the life stories of my grandparents and the sacrifices they made to make my life possible. It is their sacrifices that motivate me to respect my culture, myself, my family and my elders.

Walking in the footsteps of my ancestors does not restrict me from traveling far and wide and embracing other cultures. Before I went to England, my family traveled to France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy. I loved learning about the history and cultures of each of these countries, and was delighted in discovering the overwhelming similarities between my culture and the Italian culture.

If someone had glanced in the window of the Fiorenze trattoria where my family ate a scrumptious four-course meal, he would have seen my father’s lips moving as he talked to the restaurant owner. What they would not have known, was that my father was speaking Spanish and the owner was speaking Italian.  Yet somehow, between the common Romance languages, they found a way to understand each other.

In college and in my future I hope not only to oppose the stereotypes that demean or limit minorities, but to listen to others’ perspectives. Only through this open, fearless, unrestricted dialogue can we give rise to a world we can share.

E-mail Guerra at


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