During the summer of 2014, at the Oakland Hispanics in Philanthropy headquarters we had the pleasure of hosting a high school intern named Camila Guiza-Chavez. She was only with us for a short time, but the work she completed was substantial and the impact she had on us was significant. Recently, she shared with us one of the personal statements she submitted with her college applications. What she wrote, in essence, was endearing and truly humbling. We are happy that we were able to provide Camila an opportunity to connect to a real and critical issue that resonated with her and that she enacted what we strive for daily at HIP: to inspire philanthropy within all of our interconnected communities. We are privileged to publish Camila’s personal statement.
Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
One day, I was surprised to see my name on the cover of my town’s local newspaper, The Alameda Journal. We may be a small town, but I still felt a jolt when I saw my name in print. The article was about an event I had hosted a week earlier to raise money for the unaccompanied migrant children being detained at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. My eyes hungrily read through the article, but they stopped at the part where I was quoted saying, “I got really interested in the campaign and invested in it over the summer. It’s a cause that resonates with me, especially because I’m a Latina.” Although I was proud to be in the paper, this quote made me hesitate.
The first part of the quote was true. Last summer, I interned at an organization called Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP). At HIP, I did a great deal of research about the migrant children crisis at the border. I learned about the circumstances in Central America that push thousands of children to leave their homes and hop aboard La Bestia, the snarling freight train that carries them through Mexico to the U.S. I learned that an estimated 60,000 children were being detained at the border, and that within the next six months they would be tried in court to determine whether they could stay in the U.S. Many of these children would have to present their own immigration case against a U.S.-sponsored attorney arguing for their deportation. For many, being sent back to their home countries could put their lives at risk.
I was bothered by how little coverage this humanitarian crisis was receiving by the media, and how little it was being talked about in my community. So, with the support of HIP, I organized an art auction at my school to raise money for organizations that provide legal and social services for the children. After sending countless emails, hanging posters, and making announcements, support started pouring in. One of my teachers incorporated this issue into his curriculum. The Creative Writing Class at my school wrote poems for the children. At least twenty students created art pieces for the auction, and people I had never met before donated art from their homes. Ultimately, the event raised over five hundred dollars, and the community rallied in support of the children. More importantly, I was able to raise awareness and encourage other youth to support causes they care about when I spoke about the event in an interview on the spanish television network, Telemundo.
About a week after the event, the above mentioned article appeared in the newspaper. The truth is, my motivation to help was not that I am a Latina. Although I had said this in conversation with the newspaper interviewer, it wasn’t the point I wanted to get across. While I am proud of my cultural identity, my motivation to help comes from the fact that I am a human being. As a human being, I feel an inherent moral responsibility to do what I can for the well-being of others, regardless of their race or nationality. National boundaries are arbitrary and fluid, but people; people are real. People experience real suffering and joy, and have real capabilities for compassion. As the great-granddaughter of a woman who came from Mexico to the U.S., undocumented and with nothing but a thirst for opportunity, I have benefitted from the American Dream; but I am also a witness to its inequity. This is why I hosted the event, and it is also why I aspire to become an investigative reporter. If transitioning into adulthood means discovering one’s sense of purpose in life, then this event helped me do that: it reinforced my commitment to becoming a catalyst for social change, and giving voice to people who are otherwise marginalized.
Watch HIPGive’s Protect the Children video.
Watch the HIP’s conversation with Sonia Nazario about the unaccompanied children crisis.