Learning to Appreciate Change Learning to Appreciate Change
13 July 2023

Learning to Appreciate Change

Written by: Yessenia Mendez

I’ll be raw with you for a moment. This past fall was a hard one for me. It’s the season of change, and my life certainly did change. The friends I had made moved on, my life outside of work was difficult to discuss– I was actively grieving, and my coworkers were left to worry about me. 

I’ve learned some things about myself throughout this cold season. I’m surviving. I get myself out of bed every morning. I show up. I smile. I feed myself. I go home only to reset and start all over again. The thing with surviving is that it’s not always living. Adrenaline is really something incredible when you need it. I think the adrenaline my fight-or-flight body has made is all used up. My muscles ache. I’m chronically exhausted. My dreams show me loved ones who are no longer in my life. 

The position I have now has been helping me to not feel swallowed by my surrounding dysfunction. I’m a young biologist in training. What’s the saying?— “life imitates nature”? Nature can be brutal, but that's just how things go. The other day I found a hawk de-plumed and  freshly killed by another hawk. I was shocked, but not surprised. That’s just how things go. 

Sure, nature can be brutal, but it’s also incredible and teaches us so many things about ourselves. It taught me that life truly does go on. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m not just throwing clichés out there–I really mean it.

My family came to the United States from Nicaragua in the 80’s. Being an only child has its perks, but it also means the weight of becoming someone great is 10 times heavier, especially as a first generation kid. The thing with that is, my mom never pressured me to be someone I was not. If I said I wanted to pursue something, she’d back me up and find a way for that to happen. 

My grandmother, on the other hand, never understood what I did for a living. I’d always try to tell her that I was happy, but to her, working outside was associated with negative thoughts and feelings. I didn’t have her support. Instead she would tell me to get a job at a bank, where women should be. Outside jobs were for men only according to her, “Eso es para varones,” she would say.

I decided to give her one more try. One more explanation about what I do, why I do it, and why I’m happy. Due to some miracle, she understood what I had been trying to tell her my entire life. For the first time in years, she saw me for who I was. She was proud of what I was doing. She listened and heard my voice. 

I wonder how many first generation biologists are going through the same thing I am. Is the want and need to make your family proud as strong as mine? Do you also feel like you're breaking generational burdens and outdated views by disregarding the stereotype of what a Hispanic woman “should” be doing? Does your family also not understand what you do? Are they recommending you a job in banking too? I have so many questions and I wish I could get answers to them. 

To be quite honest I have rarely interacted with other first gen Latinx naturalists. When I do, I feel like there’s an unspoken understanding between us. I get it though– biology isn’t easy to sustain yourself on. It pays very little when you first start out. I don’t necessarily come from generational wealth in the United States. I find that a lot of my first generation friends don’t either. We’re paving the way on our own. We’re fighting twice as hard to get to where we are now.

I’m proud of who I am becoming, but sometimes that fight or flight kicks in. I forget to live in the moment and enjoy who I am right now. I’m surviving, but I want to remember to live, and live fully. I can’t rely on adrenaline forever. I’m ready to talk about it. I am ready to talk about how I’ve been feeling, how I feel like there’s got to be a reason for my existence. Living doesn't have to be this big elaborate thing. It starts with our outlook on life and how much kindness we show ourselves daily. I’m blessed to see another day, see another tree, eat another meal. I’ve learned to appreciate change, not all change is bad after all. 

Yes, I’ve been hit pretty hard by life recently, but I’m surrounded by incredible support. I could’ve given up, taken that bank job my abuela insisted on, but instead I chose to fight. I chose to make an effort for myself and for the others that I represent. It’s not easy at all. Some days take a lot more effort than others. But that’s the beauty of living I suppose. You’re going to have good and bad days, but never a bad life. 

Those T-shirts aren’t lying, life really is good. I can’t complain. I’m still going through the process of grieving, but seeing how everything settles over time is the kindest thing I can do for myself. I want to help make the planet a better place, whether that’s through keeping a certain species alive, or just putting a smile on someone’s face. It’s important to me that I leave this place a little better than I found it. 

I hope that my message encourages you to keep pushing. I’m rooting for you every step of the way! In case you haven’t heard this today, I'm proud of you. Keep doing great things. Be kind to yourself, everyone starts somewhere.

MANO Project
is an initiative of Hispanic 
Access Foundation.

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