Latina Youth: Limitless Passion & Diverse Heritage
By: Maria Thacker Goethe, Co-Chair, Estrellitas
In the US, many first and second-generation adolescent Latinas have trouble trying to bridge two cultures where values and gender role expectations often collide. Many girls feel isolated and misunderstood.
Over a decade ago, The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) and its partners recognized this and developed what is now known as La Amistad Estrellitas.
For the past 9 years I have dedicated my JLA volunteer time to Estrellitas. This program was created in 2007 and strives to encourage these youths to stay in school, prepare them to succeed in the educational arena, develop their leadership skills and to serve their community.
Our hope is that the girls will develop resiliency skills through their participation in various activities while at the same time demonstrate positive attitudinal change regarding school, their peers and parents. While some participants excel in school and social life, others have challenges. Estrellitas works specifically with female students that are having discipline issues, such as fighting, poor attendance and poor grades; though we do not exclude any interested Latina students.
Though some behaviors certainly can be attributed to ‘being a teenager’, one thing these girls wrestle with is a tug-of-war between two cultures. Certainly, all teenagers struggle with learning how to embrace their identity, but these girls also struggle with being a “third-culture kid.” They are pulled between their parent’s culture and the American culture they live in day-to-day, outside of home. They assimilate, but this can be an anxiety producing and lonely event. The program creates a safe place to discuss these struggles and provides exposure to accomplished Latina guest speakers who have faced similar challenges.
Over the years we have worked with and mentored a variety of young women with various backgrounds, from many countries throughout Latin America. Some have grown up and become mothers, others completed advanced degrees and are working in corporate America (One I am pretty sure could become president if she put her mind to it). In all cases, our volunteers have developed life changing relationships and impacted the lives of these girls.
According to a 2018 Atlanta Regional Commission snapshot, Georgia has the fastest growth rate of Latino population in the nation, and the Latino population more than doubled in metro Atlanta in the last decade.
The importance of cultivating these young women cannot be stressed enough. Encouraging them to participate in a safe forum where they can talk about challenges at home including cultural and generational gaps, while still accepting their diverse heritage is empowering.
The community partners and team of JLA volunteers for the Estrellitas program have been dedicated to supporting these young girls and helping them achieve their dreams for over a decade. I don’t see us slowing down anytime soon.
September 15 through October 15 is “Hispanic Heritage Month.” You will also see younger generations refer to it as “Latinx Heritage Month” which is simply identification of all ethnicities and nationalities of Latin descent in addition to also being gender neutral. This month is a celebration. Take a moment to learn something new about the extensive Hispanic cultures afforded to you in our great city.