Dancing toward opportunity
If you had asked the 5-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you all about my dancing aspirations.
Back then, I was all about ballet. I imagined myself on stage, beautifully twirling and pirouetting in front of crowds of people with a bright, warm light illuminating me for everyone to see.
Over the past couple of months, I haven’t been applying for any ballerina positions on my post-collegiate career path. No ballet shoes or pirouettes. I’ve been applying for two different kinds of jobs instead: writing and community building.
For me, writing has been a means of expression i could never escape. I’ve always done it, and I’ve always wanted to continue to do it. But it wasn’t until I became inspired by friends who wanted not only more for themselves, but for their friends and family and people they’d never even met before who had struggled in similar ways that I realized the great weight and opportunity of it all.
While it is expected and valid to want to achieve success for personal gain, a greater need exists for us to create spaces for those for whom there are none. If we do not work to instill the same drive and passion in others who are where we once were — in thinking, in courage, in confidence, in understanding — how will our legacy live?
In October 2012, The Atlantic Monthly associate editor of David A. Graham publicly expressed his astonishment at the fact that 93 percent of front-page newspaper stories about the 2012 election were written by white people. This number was especially stunning to Graham, considering how important issues concerning race and ethnicity were to that year’s election.
On March 8, Gawker’s Cord Jefferson wrote "When People Write for Free, Who Pays?" evaluating the ever-present “lack of diversity” so often brought up in regards to writers and media.
Jefferson explains that in order to address this very real problem, it is first necessary to understand that “the writing culture we breed when we offer to pay writers nothing or next to nothing” immediately eliminates “anyone who needs a paycheck in order to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads.”
While some writers may be able to succeed by hustling between multiple jobs and writing until they catch a break, the field “will still be overpopulated by people who came into it with money and security behind them,” Jefferson says.
If unchanged, what do these unfortunate and unfair realities mean for the future of media? Are the stories of those with privilege the only voices being heard? If so, what does it mean for the narratives of the rest of us? What messages does this send?
What do this mean for my internship and job search?
Jefferson asks similar questions. “When a website like The Atlantic offers no money for 1,200 words of writing, what kind of writer is best equipped to take on that assignment? A mechanic who works 10 hours a day and comes home exhausted, or a 23-year-old still getting rent money from his father?”
This widespread lack of opportunity limits and therefore silences so many voices in a day and age where many Americans have the tools to tell their stories but are discouraged from doing so by the invisibility of relatable figures.
My goal for the future is to make my voice increasingly visible, louder and further reaching. It’s great to see my own words on a page or a computer screen every week, but it would be truly rewarding to read the words of others like me, connecting together to grow and knock down barriers for so many more who are along the way.
The handful of kind, encouraging emails I’ve received in response to my columns throughout the semester has proven that there are plenty out there with similar ears and eyes and hearts to listen and relate to my experiences.
As one especially touching email said, "Along with your supportive community, you also left a lovely, comforting vibe for people here like me who many times feel like the media doesn't have enough of a strong, brown mujer representation for myself and other Xicanas."
Whether or not my 5-year-old self wants to believe it, these kinds of responses are worth so much more than tutus and applause. I will never be a ballerina. There will be no pirouettes on stage, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t light. For an aspiring writer and community-builder, it just means the spotlight shines beyond the stage and into the audience.
Our best work comes not only from being confident in our own ability to act for our benefit, but also from our courage to build, connect and create. By doing this, we inspire others to be big, bold, beautiful and brave, which is exactly the kind of people this world needs more of.
Always remember that there are more like you. Show them what community is all about. Go forth, dance and build it.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at @bowchickaflores