Young LatinX leaders ‘inspire the future’ at The Community Library

From left to right: Eduardo Escalera, Leonardo Padilla, Denise Salinas and Jocelyn Guzman spoke as a part of the “Inspire the Future” panel.

A host of young leaders in the LatinX community headlined The Community Library’s “Inspiring the Future” panel on Oct. 14, speaking on a range of local issues—including local representation and discrimination—in a Spanish-language livestream.

The panel, which featured English translation, was assembled as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The panelists included Leonardo Padilla, Denise Salinas, Eduardo Escalera and Jocelyn Guzman. Library Outreach Associate Mariela Orihuela moderated.

Early in the discussion, Orihuela asked the group what makes a good leader.

“A leader is someone who, regardless of what they have, shares with everyone,” said Padilla, who graduated college three years ago with an accounting degree. Now, he works as a math tutor, volunteers in Spanish classes, provides workshops to get kids ready for kindergarten and teaches Zumba at the gym. “It’s important to recognize when you’re good at something and utilize that to help others.”

When asked about current Latino leadership in the community, Padilla praised The Space and similar educational institutions. Guzman mentioned those in charge at The Hunger Coalition, with whom she works closely to collect food and serve clients. Escalera, a senior at Wood River High School, talked about Latinos in the valley starting their own businesses, which he had not seen in a while. Recently, he started a Community Table, an organization that goes to different communities that don’t get a lot of attention or necessary services. They offer resources and information, talk to them, eat with them and otherwise provide support. Next month, he will be awarded the Outstanding Youth Philanthropist Award for Eastern Idaho.

Still, the panel agreed they’d like to see greater Latino representation in the community.

Asked by Orihuela, the question made Salinas, who graduated from Wood River last year, immediately think about school, where most of her classmates and teachers are white.

“Obviously, I love them,” Salinas said. “But it would be nice to see more Latinos.”

Padilla said this starts with the family, and more families should incentivize young Latinos entering the professional community. Escalera said he would like to see more Hispanic representation in government entities, like the DMV. Often he has to translate for his parents.

“If we see someone who needs help, help them,” Guzman said. “Everyone in the community is able to do something for the community. Some people might think they’re too old, but there’s always something you can do. That’s why I like this community. There are tons of opportunities that we can help.”

Orihuela brought up the topic of microaggressions—subtle, often unintentional acts of discrimination.

“The truth is, humans tend to generalize,” Padilla said. “It’s our responsibility to show the opposite. That we are hardworking people. That we are people that fight for our dreams and that we are people that have value.”

Escalera shared a story of new neighbors calling his family “f----ing Mexicans” and threatening to call the police because just because they were speaking Spanish. He has also heard people making comments about immigrants coming to steal American’s jobs.

“That is not true,” Escalera said. “We’re here to do the work that others don’t want to do ... They should be educating themselves.”

Guzman and Salinas added that they often feel singled out in class, asked to represent the entire LatinX community.

“As young people, we’re in a process in which we’re developing our self-esteem and experiencing lots of change as teenagers,” Padilla said. “When we get called names, that discourages young people from continuing their education. That would be a reason some young people drop out of school, because they feel attacked. They could be doing great things.”

Guzman encouraged young people to share their ideas and opinions. In a Q&A session, an audience member asked the panel whether they've been made to feel different for their race and background.

“We may not have all been directly affected by racism, but we can speak for others who have gone through those things,” Guzman said. “It’s important to be proud of who we are.”

“We are different, but that’s not a bad thing—that’s something to celebrate,” Salinas said. “We can’t say we’re all equal. We can’t say we don’t see color. Because, unfortunately, there are things that are affecting people of color which we can’t erase. You shouldn’t invalidate someone’s identity because of the color of their skin.”

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