Macalester’s Latinx-identifying cultural organization, Adelante!, is collaborating with The Mac Weekly to spotlight members of the Hispanic community at Macalester for Hispanic Heritage Month (HMM). This week, Adelante! interviewed Isabel Conde ’21 who has interests in international relations and Latin American studies.
Q: What drew you to those two majors?
A: In high school, I did a program called Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS), and I lived in Nicaragua for a summer. I had a host family. I fell in love with Latin America there first. I took a gap year to Peru and I lived there for seven months, and so I know for sure that I’m in love with Latin America, and with the people and the cultures. I am interested in thinking about things [from] a broader perspective and [from] a worldly perspective, so I like the idea of exploring other cultures as well. Right now, I’m actually taking Chinese. I know for sure that I want to explore my world knowledge, but I know for sure that I’m in love with Latin America.
Q: Gap Year: Do you want to speak a little more on what you did in Peru?
A: Sure. I took a gap year. Unfortunately, my family is not well-off. I knew that I wanted to travel and that I love to travel, but we couldn’t afford most of the gap year programs offered. I decided that I really wanted to travel, so I stayed home for six months and I worked three jobs. I was an assistant in a law office in Chicago for immigrant and Latino worker rights, I worked at World Market in retail, and I was a babysitter. After those six months I got on a plane and went to Peru. I got TOEFL certified, which is teaching English as a foreign language. I was an English teacher in Peru for a little while. Then I left that to go hiking for a bit because the Andes mountains are insanely beautiful. Then I did the Inca trail. It was my dream to go to the Inca trail and see Machu Picchu. I met my tour guide who became one of my really good friends and he actually hired me to become a photographer on his treks because he has a trekking company. I didn’t go with a program because I couldn’t afford a program but I made it work with my savings that I had from working for six months. I learned a little bit of Quechua, which is an indigenous language in Peru. It’s very prominent in Cusco, which is where I was living.
Q: What is your Hispanic background?
A: I am half-Mexican and half-Irish. I struggle with my Latina identity sometimes, because I’m mixed. Growing up not speaking Spanish right away affected how I felt about being Latina. When I got to high school, they had Latin dance fusion, and my dad had always danced with me ever since I was really little, like Bachata and Cumbia and stuff. I knew how to dance, so I joined that club tentatively, and the community was so welcoming and friendly. They got me involved in more Latinx organizations. I was also taking Spanish in high school so like my Latina identity – I felt more comfortable in it and blossomed. Then I went to Nicaragua and my Spanish got better. Then I lived in Peru, and my Spanish got a lot better. So, little by little, I’ve been building up my confidence in who I am and my different identities, but specifically my Latina one.
Q: Volunteer work?
A: When I was in Peru I volunteered at a dog shelter. Whenever I was sad or missing home, dogs were a great way to lift my spirits. I’ve volunteered with AMIGOS in the past in Nicaragua.
Q: When you traveled to Peru and Nicaragua, did you travel with a group or alone?
A: So in Nicaragua, I was 15 [and] I was a sophomore. I went with the program AMIGOS. They set up nicely because they trained you for a year, so you knew how to be culturally sensitive and aware and to not show up with a “savior mindset,” and to realize that they are people and they don’t need you. Peru was not a program at all. I just went on a plane and arrived. It was one of the scariest things I’d done, but it was also super, super empowering. I stayed in a hostel for my first month there, and I found a job as an English teacher. Then I found an apartment so I lived like an adult. It was really cool and really nice. I set up my apartment with little plantitas.
Q: Why Peru?
A: I wanted to see Machu Picchu. I had seen these beautiful pictures of the people, and I was so curious about the indigenous culture that [is] still very reminiscent [of] and present in Cusco. I wanted that nice photo of Machu Picchu for Facebook, but I also wanted to know more than that. I wanted to know the story behind that photo I take. I want to know more about the Incas; I want to know more about the people that are here (in Peru); I want to know more about the language; I want to learn more about this incredible Seven Wonders [sic] of the World, but on a deeper level that’s not just for Instagram or Facebook. I want to know more about the real history and the real people. And I got to meet people who spoke Quechua first and whose second language was Spanish. I know I am so privileged to have the opportunity to travel, and I feel so blessed with all the supportive people I have in my life.
Q: Transitioning to Macalester, what is a struggle you face being a Latina student in a higher institution?
A: My mom went to college, and her side of the family expects us to go to college. But my dad came from Mexico, so he is not as familiar with the education system in the U.S. So it’s kind of half first-generation but not. Transition-wise, I got back a month ago from Peru, so I’m still dealing with transitioning back in the U.S. in general. I kind of miss hearing Spanish all the time and my Peruvian friends. I think Macalester has good resources, but I can see how incredibly hard it is for first-generation students. My mom helps me out with the random little things you need to know for college. My friends have really struggled with being first generation students.
Q: How has your ethnicity shaped you as a person?
A: I think it’s an interesting mix, because I’m mixed and I never fully fit in one group. For example, with my family, my mom’s family is all white and my brother and I are the only people of color when we have family gatherings. So when certain things come up like politics or race issues, you feel it. You feel being the only person of color in the room. But when I’m with my dad’s side of the family, I’m the gringa a little bit and so it doesn’t matter where I am with my family. Unless I’m in my household, something’s off and I don’t completely ever fit in, which can be a good thing, because I’m very comfortable and adaptable and flexible with different groups of people, but I’ve never really felt like I belong to one group. That’s my experience of being mixed. But I love it too, I love both of my cultures. My grandma’s mom is Irish so it’s three generations removed. My dad is from Puebla, Mexico. So I’m half first-generation and half third-generation, so it gets kind of complicated.
Q: What’s one thing you hope for in the Latinx/Hispanic community?
A: I hope for some good dancing, some good-ass food. I also hope to make some really good friends. Some amazing people because Latino people are amazing people. I’m really excited to build friendships because as much as I love my white friends that I’ve made here on campus, it’s always just a little bit harder to find the people of color on campus. I feel like we are just as valuable, and it’s so important to make those connections and support each other, too. Though it can get [hard], especially if you’re first generation or if you’re facing different adversities that certain students don’t face, so it’s really important to be supportive. I’m excited to meet that group of people and be in that community.
Q: What are some of your favorite Hispanic dishes?
A: Okay, I love posole. I already miss it so much. Enchiladas, you can’t go wrong with them. There’s lomo saltado and ceviche from Peru that I really love. And gallo pinto from Nicaragua, which is basically rice and beans, but when a Nicaragüense makes it, it’s so good. There’s something to it.
Q: What are some of your favorite genres of Hispanic music?
A: I like anything I can dance to. I like Selena. I like Elvis Crespo.
Q: Do you have any hidden talents?
A: I sing, but I’m really shy singing in front of people. I just got two callbacks for two a capella groups. I’m hoping to sing in a choir-ish setting so I don’t have to be out there but I can still sing because it’s stress relieving too. I like to sing and swim and dance.
Q: What made you choose to go to Nicaragua and Peru?
A: With trying to find my Latina identity, I needed more than what my city and high school was offering me. Traveling is in my blood. My mom, grandma and every woman in my family is very empowered by traveling. Each woman in my family has these really cool travel stories and how it shaped who they were. I decided that I wanted to travel and wanted to mix that [experience] with finding my Latina identity. Not that there isn’t an awesome Latino population in Chicago, but I wanted to see the heart of it.
Q: One word or sentence describing how you feel right now?
A: The word I would say is anxious just because I’m adjusting to a lot right now in different ways. I haven’t been studying for a year so I’m trying to figure out how to study again and making friends and being in a completely new place.