It was not until I attended Western Washington University when I began realizing the privileges and inequalities that impact the lives of Americans every day. As a Filipino-American woman growing up in a diverse community in Tacoma, I was introduced to numerous people from different racial, ethnic, religious and class backgrounds.
Although I had spent my entire life in Tacoma, it wasn't until I entered my first year of college at WWU that I experienced a greater appreciation for my hometown and its diversity. It wasn't until college that I first experienced culture shock. Where are all the people of color? Why am I the only person of color in my classes?
For the first time in my life, I experienced being marginalized and "othered." I hated being in an environment where I felt as if no one understood me. I felt like I was looked upon as the "token Asian" or the spokesperson for my race.
Unfortunately, I am not alone with this feeling. Many of the friends that I have gained over my four years of college can agree that there is a lack of diversity within higher education. It is for these reasons why I chose to focus my education on human services, advocacy, and community development. I understand that not every community has a system set up to provide support for people from underprivileged backgrounds and diverse homes. I also understand that not every person comes from constructive home environments or has positive role models to look up to. For these people, my ultimate goal is to be a part of their support system and help guide them to make beneficial choices for their future the way my personal support system has done for me.
I found that by taking a variety of classes that addressed community empowerment, the urge of getting involved with the Bellingham community was unavoidable. I personally took a stand against racism by getting involved and volunteering with communities I felt the most connected with.
My first experience volunteering was as a mentor and tutor for "at-risk" middle school students. I enjoyed this position because in many ways I could relate with these students who were from bi-cultural families and were faced with similar struggles as my own.
In addition to this, I began getting more involved with the Ethnic Student Center on campus, as well as interning at the YWCA, which allowed me to take on a leadership role and plan events such as the "Stand Against Racism Month" in April.
Although adapting to my new environment in Bellingham seemed like a never-ending struggle, I believe this discomfort gave me a chance to grow as an individual and step out of my comfort zone. My privilege to be in college has been a rewarding journey and has helped me build a stronger sense of who I am as a young woman of color from an immigrant family and first-generation college student.
I have learned the importance of celebrating diversity and I hope I can share my education with others in Bellingham.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Heidi Villaflores interned with the Bellingham YWCA last year and is a graduate of Western Washington University.
STAND AGAINST RACISM
The Bellingham YMCA is holding several events for Stand Against Racism at the YWCA Ballroom, 1026 N. Forest St., Bellingham:
Film showing, "Present in All that We Do"
5:30-7 p.m., Friday, April 5, 2013
In 1907, more than two-hundred South Asian workers in Bellingham, were attacked by a mob of white workers until they were forcibly expelled from the city. One hundred years later, 2007, hostility towards non-white immigrants in Bellingham continues. How have the events of 1907 shaped Bellingham as we know it in 2007? What has changed and what remains the same?
Activity, "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"
5:30-7 p.m., Friday, April 12, 2013
Raising awareness in how power and privilege affect racism.
Film showing, "A Class Divided"
5:30-7 p.m., Friday, April 19, 2013
One day in 1968, Jane Elliot, a teacher in a small, all-white Iowa town, divided her third-grade class into blue-eyed and browned-eyed groups and gave them a daring lesson in discrimination. This is the story of the lesson, its lasting impact on children, and its enduring power 30 years later.
Community celebration, group photo and pledge
5:30-6:30 p.m., Friday, April 26, 2013
To end this year's "Stand Against Racism" month, the YWCA will take a group photo of all the attendants recognizing the importance of diversity within our community. All will be asked to sign the "Stand Against Racism" pledge and invited to join together for food and drinks.