Summer of Feminista: Looking back at my mentors

Dianna Manjarrez is a working mom and public health professional.  She works in Chicago in HIV prevention with Latino communities.

Who has been your most helpful mentor?
I’ve had many mentors throughout my life, for different parts of my life. Some of them didn’t know they were my mentors because I didn’t refer to them with that title. They might have been friends, or teachers, or counselors, or just an interested staff at school. The earliest memory I have of a mentor is a teacher in middle school who took some time out of her schedule to connect with me and give me some dating advice, I didn’t date in middle school, I just had a crush on one of the students. I was in an ESL class at that time and my teacher was not Latina, but I welcomed her concern for me.

Later on in high school my mentors were usually my teachers, that one teacher that took the time to get to know me better, and encourage me, and believed in me. One of them was my English teacher, Mr. Barry Grimes. Mr. Grimes was a tough teacher, because he could see right through you, past the bad boy/girl act, the uninterested students act, and he pulled something out of you. He tried hard to teach us about life while getting us to read books and stories (like the Braided Lives Anthology). He was a quirky teacher, who always carried three moleskin notebooks in his back pocket; he used chalkboards and often wrote in the classroom brick walls to capture some of the quotes students said that he thought were worthwhile. He had a picture of a girl and a boy walking into the unknown next to the classroom clock and would often point it out to us, telling the class that was us, going out into the real world.

We wrote many stories and plays in his class, he would have us read them aloud for extra credit. Not many students read, I tried hard to read mine, and he would always comment that I needed to “slow down, read louder, and make eye contact”. Only once did he give me the full extra credit points for reading aloud, I was very proud of myself that day. When we submitted our stories, he always did a close reading of them; I always looked forward to his comments. One time I wrote a follow up story to “The Iguana Killer” by Alberto Alvaro Rios, Mr. Grimes thought it was so good; he wanted me to send it to the author. Mr. Grimes thought me the power of literature and stories. He nurtured my love of reading and writing.

Why is mentoring important for Latinas?
Mentoring is important for every young professional, but it might be more important for Latinas and women in general since we grow up in a culture and society that does not foster leadership skills in young girls. I’m sure there are some Latinas out there who had wonderful, strong women in their lives, but most probably grew up around quiet, submissive mothers and aunts. I’m not trying to say that our moms and tias can’t inspire us and guide us like a mentor can, what I am saying is that if you can’t find a role model or a guide in the women or men in your family, there is nothing wrong with looking outside.

Do you think Latinas need Latina mentors? Do you think women need women mentors?
A Latina mentor for a Latina would be ideal, however, sometimes mentors show up as people of different genders and ethnicities, I think what is more important is for the mentor to be genuinely interested in helping her mentee out, and is willing to know that because of the difference in gender or age or ethnicity there will be experiences that the mentor might not understand or be able to relate to, but he/she is still willing to and humble enough to be there.

Lately mentoring has become more popular and people are actively looking for mentors, which is a good thing because you can be more intentional in your relationship with your mentor. On the other hand, if you are looking for a mentor, and are feeling a little desperate because everyone says having a mentor is the thing to do, you might settle for a mentoring relationship that is not helpful and affirming. Instead of falling for this, I recommend that you be patient and look to the relationships you already have, and take stock of who those people that encourage, motivate, and support you are. They are ripe for becoming your mentor. You might not even have to ask them to be your mentor, but having a conversation with them and letting them know if they can be more intentional about guiding you and supporting you might not be a bad idea.

Summer of Feminista 2013 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing mentoring and what it means to them. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.