My mother has always been my most influential teacher. Immigrating from Colombia to the United States, in her work and personal life, her motto was always “la educación es la mejor herencia que te puedo dar,” meaning, “education is the best inheritance I can leave you with.”
Although I grew up in the states, my mother and I share something in common. What we know to be true, is education lies far beyond the classroom walls and stepping outside those boundaries can lead to a journey of self-discovery.
Growing up in a predominantly white community never challenged my notion of identity. Being the token minority, my neighbors and peers often trusted that my Latina experience was an accurate portrayal of Latinos across America. Little did I know, I was cheating them and myself. My ethnic, racial, and cultural identities are specific to me and could not possibly represent the general Latino experience.
Finally stepping beyond the borders of my community, I leaped at the opportunity to study abroad in Paris. For the very first time, I was not the only Latina. Coincidently, the other student was of Colombian descent like me. By knowing we shared a South American heritage and were born in the United States, I created expectations that heavily influenced my approach to our friendship. With every interaction, I found myself questioning her identity: What Colombian doesn’t enjoy Vallenato (Colombian folk music) and prefers EDM over Salsa?
I became critical of her presentation because it didn’t fit the stereotypes I learned to embrace. Expected to prove my “Latina-ness” by negating my American roots pushed me to set those same expectations on other Latinos.
Since returning from Paris, I have challenged myself to embrace all the layers of my cultural identity - the Colombian, the Peruvian, and the American. I also learned to trust and understand that one’s identity is not a representation for everyone else, but rather a unique experience that adds to the diversity in our country.
Through traveling, I discovered that there is more than one single identity and that being an American does not mean we are the same. Turning to my passion for writing, I finally found a platform that allowed me to articulate my experiences both, within my community and abroad.
The experience of being an American demonstrates that we all have many layers to who we are, and that is a quality I strive to highlight in every article I write, every dance I choreograph and every interaction I have.
Gaining an understanding for the dangers of preconceived notions and stereotypes has given me the courage to connect with people of all backgrounds and ask difficult questions that will allow us to learn more about the diversity surrounding us. As I continue writing for HuffPost and ArtsATL, I will carry my mother’s motto to ensure I, too, leave behind a legacy of infinite learning and understanding.
More About Vanessa
Vanessa Alamo obtains a strong background in performing arts including Musical Theater, Ballet, Hip Hop, and South American folk dance & choreography. The Atlanta native was born to a Colombian mother and Peruvian father and proudly represents her triple identity. As a contributor for HuffPost and ArtsATL, Alamo provides a platform for underrepresented leaders in the Arts & Entertainment industry promoting self-empowerment.
Vanessa's passion for writing and performance arts inspired the pursuit of a legal career. Hoping to become the first attorney in her family, Alamo seeks to continue advocating for artists and creators as a lawyer in the near future.