Born and raised in Chicago, Sheila is a super-achiever who exemplifies many themes of being the child of immigrants growing up in a vibrant diverse immigrant community.
She speaks to the importance of community resilience and being “surrounded by people like you” who are engaged in activities and “having fun together.” The Catholic Church, community pageants, and her involvement with the orchestra give her a sense of belonging and purpose even though sometimes she feels “too Mexican for Americans and too American for Mexicans.”
Her parents cross with coyotes as youths and though active participants in their community for a quarter century are never able to regularize their status. Their motivation to cross the border was to break their family’s “cycle of poverty” and to provide their children the opportunity for good educations—a dream fulfilled through Sheila’s educational trajectory through John Hopkins as an undergraduate and the Harvard Graduate School of Education for a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. Consistent with findings revealed in the new ground-breaking book Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success by economists Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan (based on longitudinal linked big data examining the pathways of immigrants over the last century and a half) while the first generation may struggle, the second generation reaps the benefits.
Sheila speaks to her gratitude for her parent’s sacrifices and the ways in which they point her to jobs that are not like theirs entailing hard physical labor. At a young age, she thinks deeply about how to advance her life and lands early on a passion for the violin. Through a mixture of a bit of luck in connecting with a community-based music organization and great persistence and drive on her part, the “violin changes [her] life.” Though her parents are not able to guide her through the college access pathway, their dreams and faith in her provide wind in her sails. She has the good fortune to find mentors and educators who also support her along the way, and she is admitted to and graduates from the prestigious John Hopkins Peabody Conservatory.
Though she does not find herself represented amongst her peers and sometimes feels a bit of an aesthetic dissonance in the choices of the music world in which she finds herself, she also finds her calling—to bridge the worlds of music and higher education to become more culturally responsive in such a way as to become a transformative opportunity for Black and Brown students like herself.
As I listened to Sheila’s interview, I was particularly reminded of Marjorie Faulstich Orellana’s and her colleagues’ important work on immigrant children’s language and cultural brokering. That work has shown the critical skill and mindsets that children of immigrants learn as they translate for their parents. At a young age, “as the first to learn” English, Sheila (like many immigrant-origin children) takes on the role of translating for their family in important, often high stakes, situations like at the consulate, bank, and for legal processes. Charged with these responsibilities, she developed extraordinary skills, self-discipline, and a sense of responsibility that have served both her and her family well. She carries this into her sense of life purpose and drives to provide transformative opportunities to others. Her passion and dedication are nothing short of inspiring.
Listen to Sheila’s Story here