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    Posted March 2, 2015 by
    Wichita, Kansas
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First-generation Americans

    A Latina in Kansas


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     “I want people to know that even though my parents did immigrate illegally, they are contributing in a positive way,” says Genesis Mercado, whose parents came to Kansas from their native country of El Salvador. “They represent what hard work can do for people. They represent the millions of stories this country has been founded in. They are the American Story.”
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    My story is a bit different than most:


    I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas; One of the most conservative states in the country; In the center of the Bible Belt, where only 15 percent of the population is of Hispanic origin. I grew up not knowing or seeing many Hispanics, besides the ones I knew in Church and of course, my family.


    My parents immigrated (separately) from El Salvador in the 1980s. My Father was 17 and my mother was 12. They both attended high school, but only my mother graduated. They later married and had 3 daughters. I am the oldest.


    Through President Reagan's Amnesty, they were both able to eventually gain citizenship. I didn't grow up with the worry and fear of deportation that millions of immigrant families face and for that I am forever grateful.


    I grew up mainly in the church and I guess I could say that I enjoyed it. I learned the importance of being a good person and doing well unto others. This is where I would learn to retain most of my Spanish-speaking abilities, the place where I heard Spanish the most. Spanish was my first language and was mainly spoken at home but eventually, because of school and friends, English came to dominate my household.


    My parents always advocated the importance of education. My mother searched for the best schools and even though we were not wealthy, my sister and I were sent to private school and were even homeschooled for a year. We later attended public high schools. I was never a straight-A student but I retained A’s and B’s in school. In my family, I’m known as the overachiever: I was student body president in high school, was in the National Honor Society, and I loved being involved in student activities.


    In school, many of my friends just assumed that I was Mexican but I was sure to correct them and then, proceed to show them where El Salvador was on a map. With only 15% being Hispanic in Kansas, most of my friends had never been exposed to other ethnicities. If they did know someone of Hispanic origin, they would most likely be Mexican.


    I identify myself as Salvadoran American. When people ask me where I'm from, at 23, I still stumble. “Do I tell them I'm from El Salvador? But then they'll think I was born there” “Do I say that I'm from Kansas?” …I know they usually mean what my ethnicity is but I think the question that needs to be asked needs to be different. I’ve memorized my response: “I was born in Kansas but my parents are from El Salvador.” They usually just nod.

    As a first generation American, my parents still held on to their conservative beliefs while raising my sisters and I. I wasn't allowed to go out like my "white" friends. Spending the night at their houses was even more rare and even then, my mother made sure there was full parental supervision. I wasn't allowed to go see Harry Potter movies with my classmates. I also wasn't allowed to take Sex Ed in 5th and 8th grade along with my peers. Having a boyfriend basically meant you were on track to get married. My father once gave me a 2-day lecture about having a boyfriend. I'm sure it had a lot to do with being Pentecostal, but Salvadorans are very conservative people.

    In 2002, my parents divorced and from then on, my mother mainly raised my sisters and I. My Father moved away for a job and later remarried. My mother grew less strict and we were later allowed to do more things with our friends. (She still won't let my 16-year-old sister have a boyfriend though). In college, with the support of my mother, I was able to travel around Europe, spend the summer in Jordan, and even intern for former Senator John Kerry in Washington, D.C. Some of the best experiences of my life thus far.


    My mother continues to teach us the importance and beauty of the Latin culture. She taught me that education would get me to where I wanted to be. She knew that because I was Hispanic, people would think less of me,  but that if I were exposed to many different activities and cultures, I would stand out and surprise people and therefore, remove a stigma. She's now the Executive Director for an organization that advocates for racial justice. Hers is an entirely and albeit interesting story, but I'll leave that for her to tell.


    I graduated in 2013 with a bachelor degree in Political Science from Wichita State University and am currently applying to Law School.
    I'm proud of the way I was raised. I was taught that education was the key to success and I continue to believe that. Latin culture will always be a part of who I am. I cherish the lessons and hope to pass on the language and traditions to my future family.




    A Latina in Kansas,


    Genesis Mercado-Arias

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