I’ve had a hard time putting into words how fortunate I am to be living the life of my dreams. Traveling. Interning with a nonprofit whose mission I strongly support. Working with people who care about what I have to say. Being surrounded and living with strong, talented, and empowering women. Meeting genuine human beings who make a foreign country feel like home. Yes, I know. I am blessed beyond belief.
Every morning, Facundo, my internship supervisor in Argentina, and I sit down in the common area, sip on mate (the traditional infused drink in Argentina), and chat for a bit. Recently, I shared my life story with him. I talked to him about my upbringing and why working with Red Comunidades Rurales is so important to me.
He understood that improving the living conditions of rural people in situations of risk or social exclusion is just as important to me as it is to them.
Though I was born in New York, I was raised in a poor rural community in Mexico. I lived in a small brick house with no door or windows for eight years. The empty holes in the walls were covered with plastic bags and the door was replaced by a floral curtain. Our house floor had no tiles so for years, I walked upon the earthy soil. The same soil I stepped on while working in the corn plantations. The same soil I stepped on when walking to school because my mother couldn’t afford a pair of shoes. The same soil I stepped on when feeding the cows, goats, chickens, and pigs that helped us to make a living. The very same soil I hope to step on one day in the future so that I can give back to the pueblito that molded me into the woman I am today.
It has been ten long years since I left Mexico but I have not forgotten where I come from. And I will never forget.
When I told Facundo that I brushed my teeth with sand and that my sisters and I washed our clothes in the river, he was amazed. He mentioned that many of the communities he works with still scrub their clothes on top of rocks at the edge of the river. We talked for hours. It allowed me to reflect on my upbringing and realize how fortunate I am to now have the resources I once lacked as a child. However, it was also a reminder to remain humble, remember where I come from, and always give back.
The following week after sharing my story with Facundo, he invited me to speak at St. Luke’s College. He was planning to give a presentation about the living conditions of rural communities but realized there was no better way to present that information than through a personal story.
On June 13, I spoke in front of approximately 100 students. The experience was nothing but short of wonderful. The students could not believe that the girl that once walked to school barefoot carrying her books in a plastic bag was now a college student in the United States achieving the American Dream. It was then that I understood the power of storytelling. I learned that my story matters. It matters because it is who I am.
After my presentation, Adriana, one of the students, came up to me and told me that her dream was to live and teach in New York. I smiled at her and replied, “Well, I’ll see you soon then.” She smiled, nodded, and we hugged. She understood my message: It all starts with a dream. I am hopeful that we will meet again. Maybe then, it will be her turn to share her story.
Did I mention I am blessed?
The Cultural Vistas Fellowship was designed to give more Americans the chance to gain work experience abroad and remove cost as an obstacle. Follow Jennifer and the 11 other Cultural Vistas Fellows’ summer journeys in Argentina, Germany, and India at #CVFellows17