As a young man in his early twenties, my father endured life as an illegal immigrant while holding dual jobs as a janitor and as painter in order to support me – his new daughter. Now I am a Stanford graduate who teaches at Davidson college. This type of support encapsulates why I was so drawn to the Circle de Luz mandate.
The Latino community is defined by the concept of familism. It’s what makes it strong and unique. The support I received is the same support I want to give to other Latinas in order for them to take full advantage of the American dream. In an environment rampant with discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment, these young women, the future of our community, need a strong sense of identity and support that a close-knit group of women can bring. Being a Latina means being a strong, yet family oriented woman. I feel that Circle de Luz is akin to a second family. It symbolizes the values of the culture while preparing women to participate in the New America.
I have dedicated my academic career to understanding Latina adolescent sexual behavior. By 2020, one in four teens will be Latino…these women are an integral part to a successful America. If the community does not provide support for these teens, many will end up in poverty or engaging in unhealthy behaviors that will limit future economic success. I am a part of Circle de Luz because it was not enough for my job to focus on Latinas, it is my life mission. I am so excited to be a part of the truly revolutionary endeavor. American history is ripe with stories of immigrant communities helping each other in order to fight structural inequality and against all odds. I am so happy to be a part of this rich history…and a part of women helping women. This, my friends, is the new America.
– Eve Veliz, Circle de Luz Board Member
As a 2nd generation Puerto Rican woman I am deeply concerned with the statistics:
- 51% percent of Latinas get pregnant by the time they are twenty.
- 1/3 of Latinas between the ages of 9 and 15 who dropped out cited pregnancy or marriage as the reason.
- More than half of Latino children do not graduate from high school.
After all it was not that long ago that I too could have easily been part of these statistics. Having grown up in NYC, many of my friends, classmates and cousins were all part of the statistics above. Luckily, I had wonderful examples of strong, Puerto Rican women who despite their lack of education and opportunity were part of this sisterhood of women who heal and lead in the community. My grandmother, despite having only a 5th grade education, getting pregnant when only 17 and coming from Puerto Rico to New York City in the 50’s by herself to make a better life for her and her young son, established her own business in her home in order to better provide for herself and her family. It was those examples I grew up with. I was taught to work hard, be responsible and ALWAYS give back. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the choice to pursue higher education, perhaps because I liked working and making money, perhaps because I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I “grew up”, but more likely because coming from a single parent household I didn’t know where I would get the money to go to school, and so, opted not to go at all. Everyday I struggle with that decision. I struggle with that decision especially when job opportunities are not within my reach because I “opted” not to pursue higher education. Despite my numerous other talents, I often cannot get passed the lack of higher education requirement.
When presented with the opportunity to be part of Circle de Luz, I was honored. Finally the opportunity to enable, to empower, and to mentor future generations of Latina girls who would one day come to the same cross roads. I look at my nieces, the daughters of close friends and at my own young son and know that the opportunities are limitless for them. Despite my lack of “higher education”, I have reached nominal success in my life, compared to many of the girls I grew up with. I moved out of the “projects”, have held pretty high paying jobs with Fortune 500 companies, have a wonderful husband and young son and yet I often reflect on what else I could have become or pursued if only I had just “opted” to go to college or if I had the money to pursue further education. Being part of Circle de Luz is my way of rectifying the decision I made 13 years ago to not pursue higher education by empowering other young Latina girls from the same background to pursue there dreams and to shoot for the stars!
— Jocelyn Negron-Rios, Circle de Luz Board Member
“The Circle de Luz Giving Network provides scholarship funds and support to young Latinas in order to radically empower and inspire them to pursue further education upon graduation from high school.”
Radically empower. When you take time to read the mission statement of Circle de Luz you see those words. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a group with objectives so great? When I was approached to join this amazing group of women and heard the sobering statistics about Latinas I wanted to join in partnership with other women to help young girls across the country.
This past August, at 31 years old, I became a mother for the first time. Somewhere in the U.S. at the same time a much younger, Latina woman was giving birth to her first baby as well. Although we may both have similar potential, the stats say it’s likely her life will take a path that makes it difficult for her to fulfill that potential. Instead of finishing high-school, she might drop out and give up that dream of being a teacher one day. Instead of pursuing a college degree, she’ll devote much of her time to raising her child, giving up the education and opportunities a college education would provide.
By joining Circle de Luz I hope my time and resources can help change the odds for a young Latina woman in our country. Maybe the prospect of a college scholarship or the relationship formed with a friend in the Circle might be the catalyst needed to change her life and, in turn, change the future generations of her family.
—Jennifer Fowler, Circle de Luz Board Member