Sophomore Marisa Mathews’ family has a saying: “Si se puede.” Yes we can.
The sophomore sociology student said whenever she feels discouraged, hurt or uninspired, she thinks of the Spanish phrase her immigrant grandparents repeated to her as a child.
“(It) will stick with me until I die,” she said.
Mathews, whose family is half Irish, half Mexican, moved to Fargo from Mission Viejo, a city in Orange County, California.
“It’s been quite the cultural shift from California to North Dakota,” she said.
California is one of the only states in which Latinos outnumber the 14.92 million non-hispanic whites. It’s a different environment when compared to the 3.2 percent Latino population of North Dakota.
Mathews attributes this to California’s larger population, more liberal alignment and proximity to Mexico.
Mathews maternal grandparents moved to San Clemente, California, from Tamazula, Mexico, before her parents were born in hopes of providing a better life for their kids.
Still, the family remained closely tied to their Latino heritage and to their family and friends back home.
Growing up, Mathews said she and her brother Kevin spent the summers at her grandparents’ house rather than in a daycare. It was here they learned much of their Latino culture.
“My grandparents often gave us Spanish lessons, cooked us Mexican food on the daily and raised us with the strict no-nonsense Latino style of parenting,” she said.
They instilled in her a sense of pride in her heritage, which she continues to celebrate today.
“I celebrate it every day whether it’s through watching the Mexico national soccer team play, cooking carne asada with my family or listening to Spanish music in my free time,” she said.
Both Mathew’s parents are high school graduates, but rather than furthering their education they opted for entering the workforce. This was common for children of first generation Americans: “Less emphasis on education, more emphasis on work,” she said.
Since they never went to college, Mathews’ parents stressed the importance of education for their children.
“My grandparents and my parents worked their whole lives just so I could get an education and apply my brain rather than my hands in the workforce,” she said.
Mathews said understanding her grandparents’ story, like the story of many immigrant families, is important to breaking down negative stereotypes.
“They worked and worked and worked,” Mathews said. “They raised kids. They worked. They learned most English. They worked some more.
“They built a life for themselves and my mom from the ground up. And yet there are still some people who like to label Mexicans as ‘lazy’ when they are the most hard working and lion-hearted group of people I know and am proud to be a part of.”
She said she’s frustrated by the conversations she hears surrounding both immigration and Latino people. She’s heard words like “lazy,” “dirty” or “job stealers” used to describe the culture from which she hails.
“These kind of culturally insensitive phrases and questions are what makes it difficult to hold my tongue in an academic setting and try to explain calmly to people that racism isn’t always as blatant as Donald Trump,” Mathews said.
“I know people who have claimed to be anti-immigration and yet love Mexican food, so I’m curious as to if they think that the food just suddenly manifested out of thin air in the US,”
“They only enjoy our culture when it’s beneficial to their taste buds.”
Mathews remains proud of her heritage in same we she is proud of her parents and grandparents who gave her the opportunities she has today.
“It’s a part of who I am,” she said. “I represent it proudly because my grandparents sacrificed everything to come to the US so that I could attend a university like NDSU and do what I was passionate about, not just what I had to do to provide.”