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Running head: Your Story and Theory 1

Your Story and Theory Final

Shakira Moreta

Salem State University


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It has always followed her. She has spent her entire life running and trying to hide from

it, but no place was ever safe for her. As a kid her imagination brought her to places where it

could not find her, but that only lasted for what seemed to be a moment. The chase got worse as

she got older. She constantly found herself short of breath and in places where the walls felt like

they were closing in. No matter what she did this monster found her. In a world full of billions of

people she felt as if she was facing this monster alone. At times she noticed others running

beside her. “Could they have been running from the monster too?” she wondered. But she never

thought to stop running and ask. This monster she constantly ran away from didn’t have extra

heads, sharp teeth or live under the bed. This monster was fear itself. She feared failure, being

trapped by the Hispanic belief system, prejudice, and deep relationships with others.

She lived in an urban city in Massachusetts named Lawrence where the population is

primarily Hispanic/Latino just like her. The “City of the Damned” as an article once called it. It

is a poor, over populated, immigrant city with a high crime rate. The apartment she lived was

across the street from a park she longed to play in but her mom would not allow her to go to.

Needles on the ground, men in old smelly clothing sleeping on the bench, and people fighting on

the field verbally and physically. One summer she was able to distinguish the difference in sound

between fireworks and gunshots. Whenever she mentioned where she was from, people

automatically assumed the worst of her. She was poor, uneducated, problematic, possibly on

drugs or selling them and was probably a teen mom. No one ever told her that is what they

thought of her; but she would see it in their reactions. Could you blame her for running? Fitting

into that stereotype terrified her.

What terrified her even more was that at one point in her life she felt as if she did fit that

stereotype. From elementary to middle school she was an amazing student. No grade lower than
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a B and never got in trouble. High school ruined that for her. She encountered many teachers at

Lawrence High School who clearly did not understand where the students came from and did not

care to attempt to understand either. They got paid either way. She had lost all interest in school

while she was in high school; therefore in her mind college was out the window. Her plan was to

find a job after graduating, move out, and have the two kids by the time she was 25 years old.

She was going to be the typical Hispanic/Latina woman who worked, cooked, took care of her

husband and kids, and never had a life of her own.

There was that one English teacher she met during her sophomore year in a Creative

Writing class, who then became her junior English Language Arts teacher, that somehow knew

she was afraid. His name was Sean McCarthy. As she tried to run away from what she believed

was going to be failure, McCarthy would constantly pull her back.

The thought of going to college seemed like a great way to “overcome her fears” but it

also became one. She was a first generation student. No one in her family went to college. Her

grandfather worked in a factory; her grandmother was a teachers aid for as long as she can

remember, and her mom constantly told her about how much she would love to leave her job but

could not because she had limited education and skills. She ran to and from the option of higher

education multiple times for about a year, until one day McCarthy sat with her and filled out four

college applications. Although this was her opportunity to prove that she was not a stereotype,

her fear created lack of confidence in herself. She immediately printed out an application to the

local community college because she knew she would be admitted for sure. As she waited for her

letters from the admissions offices, the walls began to close in on her. She became overwhelmed.

She desperately wanted to win this battle against herself.


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Her family constantly brought up how important going to college was and it created this

pressure she had never felt before. Between April and May of 2010, she received four letters

from different admissions offices. Each envelope she opened carried an acceptance letter for her.

That was it! She won the battle and no longer had to run away. Or so she thought.

She decided to attend the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the wall she had built

throughout her life to shut people out, had just become a lot taller. There she encountered a fear

she had thought she did not have to come face to face with again because of where she lived. In

Lawrence everyone was like her. They spoke Spanish, ate rice, beans and chicken, and had curly,

wavy, kinky hair, and round noses. The culture shock she experienced in her first week of classes

only reminded her of how uncomfortable she felt one time at the mall when she was a kid.

She remembered speaking Spanish to her mother and feeling ashamed because of the look she

received by two other girls who had blonde hair and green or blue eyes. The way they looked at

her was as if she were an alien. The first thing her mother told her was that she would possibly

encounter that same situation hundreds of times later on in life as she got older. From then on she

was afraid of losing herself. That is why Lawrence was the perfect place for her. Everyone came

from similar backgrounds and minorities were the majority. UMass Lowell was diverse overall,

however the psychology department was not. She was one of the two or three Hispanics in her

classes and possibly one of ten minorities in general.

That fear of failure took over her entire first year of college. Being from Lawrence put

her at a disadvantage. The other students came from school systems with access to various

resources and she felt beyond behind. “Who here has read…” “Who here has heard of…” the

professors would ask, and her hand was the only one that would not be raised. How

embarrassing. Assignments would pile up because of course she had no time management skills
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and she had no idea how to access her resources. What she did know how to do was run away

from things when they got hard or too scary for her. The idea of dropping out crossed her mind

so many times.

At the age of nine she faced one of her biggest fears; a fear she did not realize existed

until life threw it at her. On November 12, 2001 the house phone rang and her mother called her

name. Her mother had no idea how to give her the news. How was she supposed to break her

daughters heart carefully? But the words had to come out. He was gone. Her godfather, a man

she loved dearly passed away. It affected her in many ways for years to come; however this gave

her some strength during her undergraduate years. The idea that her godfather was looking after

her and proud of her accomplishments motivated her to push through no matter how afraid or

unprepared she was. Although she found strength in one of her weaknesses, it also created

another thing to be scared of.

Disappointment. What if he did not approve of her decisions? What if she was not doing

enough to make him proud? What about the rest of her family? They looked at her as a sign of

hope. She had a younger sister and cousin that followed her every move. Was she trying hard

enough? Was she setting the right example? And just like that the thoughts of giving up

resurfaced.

Her name is Shakira Moreta and if you were to ask her who she really was, she would not

be able to tell you. At the age of 24 she finds herself still trying to find herself. Her life has

revolved around fear. Terrified of failure and becoming another statistic, she found a way to push

through college in order to prove to herself that she could overcome one of her fears. Horrified of

people continuing to come in and out of her life, she built a wall so high and so thick that many
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people she has had some type of relationship with have tried to break it down and never

succeeded. Therefore she has fought against fear physically and internally on her own.

Her arrival at UMass Lowell made her feel the need to add a few windows in her private

space, which opened her eyes to a whole new world. She was not in Lawrence anymore. She

encountered people from different countries, ethnic, socioeconomic statuses, and racial

backgrounds that occasionally removed her from her comfort zone. She joined the executive

board for the Latin American Student Association (LASA) and was able to collaborate with other

student organizations in order to help make students feel like they are a part of the UMass

Lowell campus. Her college experience made her decide to stop running although life still scared

her.

The Monday right after Shakira graduated she decided to put her degree in psychology

and minor in education to use. She began working at a day care center in Lawrence as the school

aged group leader. During that summer Mr. McCarthy had reached out to Shakira, asking what

her plans were now that she has graduated. He was aware that she minored in education and

wanted to teach. Mr. McCarthy was no longer an English teacher, he became principal of the

Business, Management and Finance academy (BMF) at Lawrence High School. She explained

her current situation and he asked to meet with her about an open teaching position he needed to

fill. When they met, McCarthy explained that he had an open position for an English as a Second

Language (ESL) teaching position. Shakira began to freak out. The education courses she took at

UMass Lowell were focused on elementary education. This was high school. He knew Shakira

so well he sensed her fear about taking the job. He explained what her responsibilities would be,

showed her the classroom that she would be teaching in, and explained that he remembered how

scared she was in high school and how she could use that experience to help the students in
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BMF. Although this may not have been in Shakira’s plan, this would be a great opportunity for

her to “get her feet wet” as McCarthy said and she accepted the offer.

Terrified of not knowing what to expect on her first day of teaching, Shakira made sure to

let her students know that her job was to be their support system. She was very open with her

students about her fears in high school in order to build a connection with them. During her

second year of teaching, Shakira realized that she did not enjoy teaching. She did love her

students and loved helping them with job, college and financial aid applications. She enjoyed

being the person they went to for college readiness support.

With that idea in mind, after being out of college for two years, she decided she would

return to college and earn a masters degree in Student Affairs. Her hope is that one-day she will

create a place for students who like her, run away from their fears instead of facing them.

Shakira decided to make fear a friend she would use to her advantage. Fear would motivate her

rather than push her away from what she believed would make her great.

Shakira is a first generation college student as well as a second-generation immigrant and

a first generation American. Torres (2003) found that Latino college students felt the need to

please their parents. Because no one in Shakira’s family went to college, prior to actually going

to college she felt as if she had to please her family by going to college. Her family decided to

come to this country for better opportunities and she wanted to show them that it was not a

mistake by taking advantage of those opportunities.

Shakira has always identified with her ethnic identity rather than her nationality or race.

She was never afraid of expressing pride in being Hispanic/Latina, but now she is terrified of

what will happen to her because she is Hispanic/Latina. Shakira was ready to focus on working

on her insecurities and becoming an optimist rather than pessimist. Everything took a turn when
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she saw the results of the 2016 Presidential Election. Donald Trump won the election and she has

never been more terrified. What scares her most is that now she feels like she constantly needs to

watch her back. She will never know who actually voted for him meaning she may or may not

experience racism more in person. Shakira’s students still reach out to her when they need help.

On the night of the election one of her students reached out to her and was in shock that Donald

Trump was winning the election. It was at that very moment that Shakira felt as is she failed her

students and began to question how she was supposed to help students in college as student

affairs professional. Shakira spent two years explaining to her students that their parents came to

the United States to make sure that their children had better opportunities that they had. Now the

United States elected a man who wants to deport immigrants and she does not know how to

comfort or help her students feel like they still have access to the opportunities that their parents

brought them to this country for.

Moreta’s Latino/a Ethnic Identity Development Theory

Ethnic identity refers to what an individual learns about their cultural background from

their family and the community they live in (Patton et al., 2016). Moreta’s Latino/a Ethnic

Identity Development (MLEID) theory addresses the ethnic identity development process for

Latino/a students. The MLEID theory merged Marcia’s four ego identity statuses, foreclosure,

diffusion, identity achievement, and moratorium with three of the influences on identity from

Torres’s bicultural orientation, where the students grow up, family influence and generational

status, and self-perception model, in order to further understand the ethnic identity development

process among Latino/a students. The influences from the bicultural orientation model fall into

the four identity statuses. Students reach certain identity statuses at different points in their lives
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and it is possible that after reaching identity achievement they may go back to questioning what

their ethnic identity is at some point in the future.

In the foreclosure status, students accept their parents or families cultural values without

questioning them. The influence the family has on the student as well as the generational status

of the student also plays an important role in the student’s Latino/a identity development.

Students who are considered to be a first or second-generation immigrant are more likely to

identify themselves as Latino/a (Patton et al., 2016). The student’s parents or family may fear

that the student will forget their cultural background (Torres, 2003). Although Shakira was born

and raised in the United States, she was raised with her mother’s side of the family, which comes

from Puerto Rico. Shakira learned to speak Spanish before English and grew up learning about

the Puerto Rican culture. Her mother speaks Spanish and English fluently because she came to

the United States at a very young age. Her grandparents however, speak English well enough to

keep up with certain conversations but they are not fluent English language speakers. Up until

the fourth or fifth grade, Shakira was raised to speak English only at school and Spanish at home.

Her mother did not want her to forget the Spanish that she knew and never wanted her to forget

“where she came from”.

In the diffusion status students may refuse or may be unable to commit to their ethnic

identity. Where students grow up plays an important role in the student’s Latino/a identity

development. Growing up in an environment where a majority of the people look like you and

share the same cultural background would make the student more likely to identify with that

specific ethnic background, as opposed to growing up in a predominantly white environment

where the student would demonstrate a preference for the dominant culture (Patton et al., 2016).

Shakira grew up in a predominantly Hispanic/Latino environment. A majority of the people in


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Lawrence spoke Spanish, ate similar foods, listened to similar music, and shared similar values,

making it easy for her to identify with the Latino/a ethnic identity. Had she grown up in a

predominantly white neighborhood, she may have identified with the American culture more

because her culture was not similar to the dominant culture in her environment. In this case she

may have been in the diffusion or moratorium status because it may have made her question her

parents values in regard to her own identity.

Identity achievement refers to being confident regarding the individual’s sense of culture

and what others may expect from them because of their culture (Patton et al., 2016). How

Latino/a students perceive themselves also impacts their Latino/a identity development. The

influence of self-perception and status is related to privilege (Patton et al., 2016). Latino/a

students who feel some sense of privilege may have believed the stereotypes however did not let

the stereotype influence their lives. Latino/a students who do not feel as if they were privileged

growing up, tend to notice racism more and are open to others experiences (Patton et al., 2016).

Torres’s Bicultural Orientation Model

Torres (2003) studied the experiences of Latino students. In her research, she explained

three variables that would help Student Affairs professionals gain an understanding into Latino

student’s lives which were identity development and cultural orientation, the effect of college

environments and the generational status and parental expectations (Torres, 2003). In order to

help student affairs professionals to understand Latino students’ identity development and

cultural orientation, Torres created the Bicultural Orientation Model (BOM). Students who have

a higher preference for their Latino culture have Latino orientation, meaning they have higher

levels of ethnic identity compared to their level of acculturation (Torres, 2003).


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The college environment influences retention in Latino students. Torres (2003) conducted

a study to determine whether Latino students in colleges with a low Latino population, would

lose their sense of identity. There was one student that expressed that he had to educate others

about where he was from and what his life was really like compared to what everyone assumed

(Torres, 2003). Shakira constantly had to explain how to pronounce her name, where she was

from and the Puerto Rican culture because everyone would assume that she could speak for all

Latinos when being asked a questioned about the Latino culture. It was something she would get

extremely frustrated with and would make her feel uncomfortable. Torres (2003) also found that

Latino students in predominantly white colleges tend to look for other students who share the

same culture. Because Shakira came from city where the population was predominately

Hispanic/Latino, Shakira’s first instinct was to look for students who were also Hispanic/Latino

when she got to UMass Lowell. During the first week of classes Shakira felt uncomfortable

because she was one of the few Hispanic/Latinos in the class. She felt incapable and until she

finally became comfortable discussing race with people who were not considered minorities, she

highly considered wanting to leave UMass Lowell because she felt as if she was incapable of

succeeding based on the fact that she felt that they were more prepared than she was.

Moreta’s Latino/a Ethnic Identity Development and Torres’s Bicultural Orientation Model

Although very similar, the major difference between the MLEID theory and the bicultural

orientation model was the environmental influences. In Torres’s model she focused on the

college environment and its influence on the students ethnic identity whereas Moreta focused on

the environment in which the student grew up and how it influenced the student’s ethnic identity.

The environment in which a student grows up may influence their ethnic identity, however being

exposed to a completely different environment in college may increase the possibility of the
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student questioning their ethnic identity. They will be introduced to different cultures and

because of that, they may want to find other students who share the same ethnic identity or may

want to explore.
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References

Patton, L.D., Renn, K.A., Guido, F. M., & Quaye, S.J. (2016). Student development in college:

Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Torres, V. (2003). Mi casa is not exactly like your house. About Campus, 8(2), 2.