Born and raised just outside of Los Angeles, California, Ariana Peña is a member of the class of 2017 at Saint Michael’s College. A second generation American, Peña is looking forward to becoming the second person in her immediate family to graduate from college. She is majoring in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital arts and is pursuing a minor in Business Administration.
An avid dancer and writer, Peña is also a member of the Acabellas—a female acapella group at SMC. When she is not focusing on class, homework, or extracurricular activities, Ariana works at Einstein Bros. Bagels and Bath & Body Works.
I am from Whittier, California located in Los Angeles County. I grew up there my entire life, I’ve never moved or lived anywhere else. Whittier has a very large Hispanic population, I believe that the population is at least 70-80% Hispanic. There’s also a lot of diversity—there’s a little bit of everything. A large majority of my high school was Hispanic, it’s funny because the people who were white were actually the ones who stood out.
I came to Vermont to begin studying at Saint Michael’s College in August of 2013. I always knew that I wanted to get out of state for college. I found Saint Mike’s and I thought, “Wow, Vermont is really far, I don’t know exactly where it is on the map but it’s not around here.”
When I was narrowing down my top schools I came to visit, I just fell in love with Saint Mike’s. I was really taken by the idea of living on the East Coast. There was something very powerful in moving to the other side of the country for college.
The best thing about living in Vermont is being able to experience the natural beauty of the state. Many people are very down-to-earth and welcoming. I think the beauty of Burlington and Vermont, as well as, the people are wonderful.
Vermont is a very white state, which was off-putting to me at first. I didn’t truly realize those demographics until my first-semester of my sophomore year.
Whenever I go to the Burlington airport I am the only person of color there and I feel like everyone is staring at me. That’s also how I feel when I go to Burlington and different parts of Vermont, I can feel other people staring.
I think that the most off-putting thing about this behavior is that you don’t know why they’re looking. It’s a weird feeling. I experience it all the time, even when I’m in classes. If I’m in class and anyone mentions something about race I feel a sense of anxiety because I know that my classmates recognize that I’m the only voice of color in the room. It’s this really anxious feeling of “Oh my God, they’re going to notice that I’m not white.” That sounds so silly but it’s just the reality of the situation.
I’m a second generation American, my parents were both born in the United States in California. Three out of four of my grandparents are from Mexico and I identify as a Mexican. I’ve never felt hindered because of my color, I’ve never felt that I didn’t have a right to my education.
I feel a sense of empowerment because I’m a first-generation student. I am the second person in my immediate family to go to college. I feel proud that I am going to graduate and I am going to be a person of color with a degree. However, I am also learning how to be a person of color in a white world.
Since coming to school, I’ve learned that education and college are part of white person’s world and I had to learn to operate in that environment. I have to make sure that everything I do does not fulfill someone else’s stereotype of my culture. When you are a person of color, you have to work every single second of everyday to not fit your ethnicity’s stereotypes.
I’m appreciative that there is a refugee population around Burlington, so there are some people of color in Vermont. Obviously that number is small in comparison to the amount of white people there are in the state.
In my own community, I appreciate that there is a small population of people at Saint Mike’s who understand or make it a point to learn about other peoples’ cultures. I think the thing I value the most are the individuals who are totally unaware of my culture, they makes me stronger and aware of what I’m going to have to deal with in the workforce. It’s giving me an upper hand because I’m going to know how to navigate myself in two different worlds.