When I was younger, my single mom worked two jobs to support my siblings and me. Sometimes, she would take us to her second job in an okra factory, where we stood for eight hours straight in a mosquito-infested room, separating the good okra from the bad and complaining every step of the way.
“I want you to hate it,” my mother would explain. “I want you to understand how important it is for you to study — so you won’t have to do the kind of work that I do.”
Looking back, I realize how much those long, hot, achy afternoons shaped my path. I come from a high school in the Rio Grande Valley with a high Latino population — and a high dropout rate. Year after year, I watched friends and classmates walk through the double doors and never come back. They didn’t do it because they weren’t capable or didn’t care, but because when they looked around at the poverty and crime that riddled our streets, there was no evidence of education as the route to a better alternative.
The message students in my community got from broader society only further confirmed what they were learning in the neighborhood. The media is more likely to offer stereotypes about low-income Latinos than examples of people like us excelling through hard work, passion and intelligence.
When I first came to UT-Austin, I thought I’d play a role in changing this as a journalist myself. But as I learned about systemic inequality, I started to wonder about opportunities to have a more direct impact. I wanted to be part of a movement.
As this desire crystallized in my mind, I thought about my unlikely path to UT and the people who paved it — my teachers. I myself could have easily gone down the wrong path if I hadn’t had incredible teachers who supported and believed in me. Reflecting on how crucial those teachers were in shaping my path out of poverty, I’ve decided to follow in their footsteps. After graduation, I will be joining Teach For America — the same program through which many of my influential teachers came to my schools.
As a teacher, I will have the opportunity to show my students that they can succeed. I know the barriers they face. But I also know that their futures aren’t written yet. It’s up to my fellow educators and me to help them realize that they are the architects of their destiny.
Hispanic Heritage Month just ended, but together, we can keep the momentum of the celebration and advocacy going all year long. I know the work will be hard, but I also know the progress will be powerful. It’s up to us to give our kids the sturdiest foundation possible so they can build the futures they deserve.
Mariana Munoz is a senior. She is a member of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Student Conduct Board, and Euphoria ATX. Munoz previously worked for the Texan.