I am a 29 year-old, Caucasian, cisgender female. I am very short. I am slightly overweight, but not so much so that others comment upon my weight and health, only enough that I feel insecure in a bathing suit, or sometimes regret eating dessert. My skin color is such that after a few days in the sun, in the summer, my ethnicity can sometimes be ambiguous. Occasionally others assume I am Latina, but my heritage is mostly European, and I know very little about it. I do not put much effort into my makeup or clothing, I typically strive to be comfortable and dress appropriately for my teaching career in clothing that allows me to move freely, crouch down to speak with students at their desks, and sit on the floor if need be. I wear a ring on my left ring finger, so people can tell from looking at me that I am married.
More Than What the Eye Can See: My Journey
I am a first generation college student. My father was very successful despite his lack of education, and I grew up in an upper middle class household. I never wanted for anything. Since my parents were successful without college, they sometimes question why I am so passionate about furthering my own education. My mother even called pursuing my Master’s degree a waste of money, insisting that once I had children I would not want to work anymore. She speaks from her own experience as she stayed home to raise my younger sister and me. My parents have been married for my entire life, though their marriage has not always been happy. I remember them fighting often about finances, which has shaped my very frugal nature. Family has always been very important to me. I especially value family dinners and holiday traditions, some of which are based in my heritage- a mixed bag of European cultures.
My mother’s side of the family identifies as Hungarian. My grandmother’s paprikash chicken is still one of my favorite comfort foods, and kiflis, a rolled cookie, are a holiday tradition that I have taken over creating since my grandmother’s arthritis advanced with her age. On my father’s side, the family identified mostly as German. My father lived in Germany with his mother for a few years and he spoke some German growing up, but I never learned any of the language. He doesn’t talk often about his time living abroad.
I was raised in Taneytown, Maryland. Nearly everyone I knew growing up was white and middle class. My family lived just outside of town on a farm. We raised Hereford cattle, a breed of beef cattle that are noted for their red coloring and white faces and feet. Cattle and 4-H were mainstays of my childhood. I had to work outside in the summer with my cattle rather than attending camps or joining girl scouts like many of my friends. I hated it at the time, but learning to care for other living things and prioritize responsibility above fun really shaped my work ethic, which has become valuable in my schooling and career.
I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade. When I was in sixth grade, a close family friend had a heroin overdose. He survived, but was comatose for thirty days, and his hand was permanently damaged by the incident. I vividly remember visiting him in the hospital, and this experience steered me away from drugs forever. I became very judgmental of people who used drugs in my teenage years. I chastised friends experimenting with marijuana and excluded myself from many social events due to the presence of drugs. I later found out that my family friend who overdosed was battling depression and closeted homosexuality at the time of his drug use, and I became more sympathetic towards people who may see drug use as the only way to escape the harsh realities of their lives. My hometown continues to be plagued with heroin addiction. Several of my former students and classmates have passed away from heroin overdose.
In my younger years, I was very religious. I took the rules of the Catholic church very seriously. In high school, I began to question my faith, and stopped attending church regularly. I began to meet friends who were homosexual or simply not Catholic, and seeing how they were treated by the church and my school upset me. Viewing others in my hometown as close-minded, I developed aspirations of attending college as far from home as possible. For my first year of school, I did just that. I moved to Chicago, Illinois and attended an art school in the heart of downtown, to study journalism and theatre. My year in Chicago was transformative. I met so many people who were not like me. At first, I was scared. I didn’t know how to interact with people of different races and cultures. I had never really talked with people of different cultures or backgrounds before. I realized that I had much to learn about people, and tried to approach everyone I met with an open mind. I had to work to reject the stereotypes I often heard in my hometown and learn not to be afraid of walking down the street in the city. I lived in an apartment style dorm and learned to be responsible for myself with my parents halfway across the country. I took public transportation and became comfortable navigating a big city.
On the other side of this experience, I missed home. Though I became comfortable in the city, I longed for green space and a small town where everyone knows your name. I decided after a year of art school that I wanted to be a teacher, and I transferred to a small college in Pennsylvania. The makeup of this new school was similar to that of my hometown.