But let’s get back to the fact that she’s 17. She’s smart, popular, kind, and strikingly pretty, even by harsh pop-culture standards. In a year, she’ll attend a good college and she’ll major in business. While teenage girls of all races typically struggle with their self-esteem, I guess I was surprised to hear notes of self-doubt from a non-minority, all-American girl who never suffered from a lack of supervision, a lack of role models, body image issues, depression, pregnancy, poverty, crime, illegal status, language barriers, prejudice, and the shame of being considered “different.” If kids who fit the mainstream definition of “cool” still experience self-doubt, then we can get a glimpse of the dangers lurking for the Latino teenager.
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I think back to my own 17-year old self. While I struggled with self-esteem too (I was shy, skinny, with acne, braces, and mediocre grades), I never doubted that I could do whatever I set my mind to do. When passing through an upper-class neighborhood, I would point and say, “I’m gonna buy that one.” I actually have a picture of myself doing such a thing. Ironically, the foundation of my irrepressible optimism blossomed from poverty. My grandfather migrated from Puerto Rico 60 years ago with no skills, a sixth-grade education, and 6 small children to feed. He broke his back working in a factory, but died a proud homeowner and father to 6 adults who all had lives better than his. My father put himself through college and graduate school and achieved the ultimate reward—a career he loved. He assured me that I would stand on his and abuelo’s shoulders and that I’d reach heights they had never dreamed possible.