Above: Maria, left, takes a selfie with her best friend and fellow R2L NextGen peer, Gabby Morales, in Washington D.C.
By Maria Dominguez
Photos by Gabby Morales
In the spring, I was encouraged to apply to R2L NextGen, a leadership training program of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHCI) based in Washington D.C. and designed specially for Latinos. We’Ced staff thought I would be a good fit for this experience so they helped me through the rigorous application process which even included obtaining letters of recommendations.
I was nervous about going to Washington D.C. Having to meet new people, being open-minded around others, and travelling for the first time on my own, gave me anxiety.
All I really wanted to do was visit the National monuments, learn about our history, and spend time with my best friend, Gabby. But the R2L NextGen program really surprised me.
I was provided with so many exciting opportunities and activities, enjoyed delicious food, and had a chance to meet students my age from both the U.S. and abroad.
I was told this trip would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I never imagined it would make a huge impact on my life, allowing me find confidence in who I am and fueling me to become a champion for equal rights.
One of the best parts of my trip was attending an immigration panel where four of my peers discussed their background history and immigration experience. I met one of the panelists, Sonia Arreguin from Los Angeles, who had a similar experience as me. I got the chance to share my personal story with her and express the joy I felt about meeting someone who had immigrated from Mexico like me.
It was an amazing feeling knowing that I am not alone and that there are people out there who can understand how I feel, living a new life in a new country without a loved one. I always believed that everyone had different stories and only the people who been through something similar would understand, but I learned that no matter where one comes and who we are, there will always be someone out there who we can rely on.
I had always admired hardworking people from Mexico, people who work everyday in order to provide resources for their families, but I had never really taken pride in being Mexican because of the corruption and drug situation my country faces. When it came to identifying as something, I used to consider myself a Latina and not Mexican.
This changed when we began talking about community issues and issues that are important to us. Issues like immigration, sanctuary cities, racism, and the plight of undocumented people. Seeing how passionate many of my groupmates were made me realize how important it is to stand together as one in order to make change in our community. I learned that there many young people out there fighting for our rights and for a better future for our Latino community.
After learning these things, I felt pride in being Mexican and an immigrant. I want to get more involved in my community like writing articles, being more open-minded, speaking up, giving my point of view of certain topics, motivating others to get more involved and become a leader in my community. I want to be an example for others to follow and make my voice be heard to make a change.
If I ever get the chance to attend the R2L NextGen program, I would gladly go again because it became a safe place where I felt I belong. It was amazing meeting people like me ad getting the chance to explore Washington D.C.
I am looking forward to the opportunities I will receive from being an almuna of CHCI’s R2L NextGen program, but most importantly, what I can do to make my own community a safe place for immigrants like me.
For more information about the R2L NextGen program, you can visit CHCI’s website here.