If you're an immigrant kid like me, you've probably heard (or been spoon-fed) the phrase "salir adelante." This phrase - this mentality - has been drilled into many of our heads since we were children: the magic formula for succeeding in this country; the recipe for our own "rags to riches" stories.
For a long time, you could say I was the poster child for "saliendo adelante." I saw it as the only way to make my parent's proud, to honor their sacrifices and prove our worth in this country. If I beat the odds and "made it in America," they couldn't send us back. They couldn't turn their backs on us.
So I won spelling bees and enrolled in fancy summer programs; I ran for class president and made straight A's. But I also denied my Latinxnidad; I separated myself from other Brown folks, feeling a surge of pride when people would say, "She's not like the rest of them. She's different." I fought hard to "salir adelante." I assimilated, wanting so intensely to push ahead, to make something "better" of myself that I forgot where I came from.
You can't "salir adelante," without leaving something, or someone(s), behind. When you climb the ladder to the "top," you're saying goodbye to your barrio; you're divorcing yourself from your roots, from who you are.
Like Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, I spoke in front of white audiences and narrated the version of my life they wanted to hear: I told the emotional story of an immigrant kid who started at the bottom and climbed her way to the top. Of someone who overcame ESL and economic barriers to make it to the Ivy League. I made them feel better and stroked their egos, praising them for helping someone like me. In actuality, just like the Invisible Man, I too was blinded and in a boxing ring, pitted against other Brown kids, scrambling over fake gold coins -- over a fake sense of accomplishment and worth.
When I "made it," when I attained what I thought I was supposed to - when I became the success story - I found myself surrounded by people who didn't understand me or where I came from. Who used me and exploited my story. I found myself hundreds of miles away from home in an institution that tokenized me. Who used me to check off a box. The respectable Latina. The non-threatening Latina. The well-spoken Latina. The kind that sounds white and looks white but makes us seem "diverse." I wasn't appreciated. I wasn't valued. It was a wake up call.
Our immigrant parents, our colored parents, our dreamer parents, mean well when they teach us to "salir adelante." This advice comes from a place of love but it leaves us unprotected and uprooted, looking for validation and a sense of worth from a society that wants to erase us, dilute our differences, and silence our realities. I stopped trying to get ahead; it didn't work for me.
Ya no quiero salir adelante. I'm done being the "successful," "educated," token Latina. My worth does not come from how far I "make it," from the degrees I have, or how impressive my resume is. Because "making it" is synonymous with "getting out." Because "getting ahead" comes at the expense of the people I call family, of the place I call home. Because when I worked towards whiteness, I came out the other side bruised and disillusioned. Because I am tired after climbing for so long. Because I don't feel better after years of striving for a "better" future.
Lo repito: Ya no quiero salir adelante.