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Edwin Juarez Reflects on Identity and the CLS Program

Edwin Juarez is an alumnus of the 2020 CLS Virtual Korean program and a current student at Claremont McKenna College, where he is majoring in Foreign Languages. Growing up in a predominantly Mexican-American community in Houston, he noticed how relieved his parents were when someone offered assistance in Spanish. This helped him understand how important it is to communicate with people in their native languages and sparked his passion language learning and achieving education equality in his home community and beyond. He wrote the following about the intersection of his identity as a Hispanic student on the CLS Program.

Reflections on His Upbringing

My background has guided me ever since I found out about the history and culture of my roots, which I was not able to truly grasp or engage in as a child. Growing up, I found it difficult to understand why my grandmother refused to teach my mom her native tongue, a language known as Chatino of the indigenous Chatino population in Oaxaca. Knowing that I could have been fluent in not just English and Spanish, but an indigenous language as well, contributed to my language learning journey. Though I missed out on this opportunity, the rich cultural history from my mom's side allowed me to grow up with foods such as Mole (my favorite dish of all time), Tamales de Mole, Pozole, Tostadas de Tinga, Agua de Jamaica, Tlayudas (Tostada unique to Oaxaca), Champurrado, and dance music like Chilenas with my cousins and uncles.

My dad's side of the family is Afro-Mexican, and it wasn't until college that I learned there was a term for this identity. Not realizing until recently that my dad’s side of the family are part of a small percentage of Black Mexicans has made me want to do more for them. I am aware of the struggles they face as a community and as individuals, and I will do everything I can to bring more awareness to the Afro-Latino community.

I am very lucky to be part of a unique family, which showed me how fun and rich our culture is. I am really proud of my parents who came here as immigrants over 30 years ago and met here in Houston. They started a life together and had me and my 4 brothers, first as produce vendors in a flea market in Houston, and now as pool builders for the last 15 years. As a first-generation college student, I am happy to represent them everywhere I go.

Bringing His Background to CLS

Throughout the CLS program I was amazed at how much Korean I still have to learn and was reminded of why so many people in the Latino community are not as willing to learn an East Asian language as they are European languages. On CLS, I was amazed at the amount I learned and envisioned myself in the shoes of a professor while my own professors were explaining something to us. Had it not been for the CLS Program, I would not be as focused both in my own language journey, as well as in my career journey. I began to think of ways to teach students about Korean, whether it is outside of school or as part of everyday classes. I’ve come up with ideas to show students that it is not as impossible as it may seem, and that with a proper system of studying it is attainable.

On CLS, I learned about Chuseok and how similar the celebration of their ancestors is to Dia de Los Muertos, which showed me a bridge between the two different cultures. From what I remember of my high school community and from what I know now of my own family, they love Korean food but don't know much about the culture. The CLS program has made it easier for me to communicate the similarities to people of my culture not just in terms of food but also holidays and history.

Thanks to the CLS program I will be able to speak with Koreans about these topics and make deeper connections. Overall, the CLS Program has truly made the paths to language learning and teaching a lot smoother and clearer for me.