Leadership Development: #ChangeFromWithin

Over the next several weeks we’re posting a series of blogs from our current Greenlining Fellows, exploring their own personal transformation and #ChangeFromWithin, and what that means for leadership development. You can read Patrick Brown’s introduction to the series here. Here at Greenlining’s Leadership Academy, we’ve been on a journey. We invite you to join us.

I have a confession to make. Although common sense tells me that the last thing I need to do is confess to the internet (my God, the internet, it is forever!), this is a cathartic experience.

I am one of the thousands of beneficiaries of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. This means that my potential deportation action is deferred until further notice (although the program remains under threat).

Are you next? Applications now open for our Leadership Academy’s 2018 Fellowship and Summer Associate programs.

I am thankful for the opportunity to come out of the shadows, but I have a tremendous amount of guilt. The guilt stems from the arbitrary reason that I benefitted from DACA while my equally qualified sister did not. I’ve seen no research to legitimize this feeling, just my experiences.

To be “DACA-mented” is to be in limbo. DACA provided me with the authorization to legally work, but absent some extraordinary reason, I cannot travel outside the United States. DACA allows me to obtain any job that I qualify for (except those reserved solely for U.S. citizens) and if I do not like it, I can leave and find another one, without the fear. To me, DACA represents a shield against the underground economy that is rife with abuse. It is not the same for my family.  I have watched my parents endure long work hours with no benefits, and constantly hear my sister express her desire to go back to school. I share with them the fascinating experiences of my fellowship, but I don’t go too much into detail, in part because I am unable to capture the essence of what I do in Spanish. Most of all, I do not want to seem like I am bragging.  My parents do not consider this as bragging; instead, they are elated that I was able to accomplish my goal—to graduate from law school.

Yesi LagunasMy DACA guilt is only dwarfed by break-away guilt— that is, the guilty feeling that I have for pursuing law school while it feels like my family is left behind. For me, break-away guilt means constantly struggling between two identities: one for home and the other for work and the rest of society. I am not alone in feeling this way; many first-generation college students share this deep sense of guilt for leaving their families behind to pursue an education. This feeling did not subside once I graduated from UCLA and conquered law school—it got worse. The guilt and inability to call out injustices remained. I felt that I had to work twice as hard to make my family’s sacrifice worthwhile. This was an exhausting process and I constantly questioned my decisions to go to law school.

It has not always been this way. As a child, I was very inquisitive and questioned everything I saw and heard. I was relentless — annoying to be exact — and pressed for answers.  In hindsight, it must have been difficult for my family to manage my curiosity and calm my incessant questioning by telling me that it was not polite for me to question adults.

Inevitably, my immigration status stymied my curiosity and silenced my inner child. I became quieter, even afraid to ask questions, and shied away from overt controversy. I played it safe because I did not want to raise any suspicions about my undocumented status. This came with a price because I did not speak up at all.  I did not question injustices, from seemingly innocent mistakes like getting charged more for a meal to larger issues such as not getting paid for my overtime work.

I lost my voice.

You don’t question adults. Although I was an adult, I still felt like a child.

You see, change does not happen overnight. It’s a painful, slow process — one step forward, five steps back.  The Greenlining Academy is my step forward because it has helped me peel back the layers of why this guilt exists. Through its many workshops, the Academy has taught me to use my voice to call out injustices, that I deserve a seat at the table, to voice my opinion, and that I should be unapologetic for my experiences. I can’t attribute this change to any one specific workshop or assignment; instead, my change has come from the holistic approach that the Academy takes with each fellow. My strengths have been praised and my weaknesses framed as an opportunity to improve my personal toolkit. Finally, the Academy helped address my guilt by giving me the space to talk about my experiences and choose how to rise to these challenges.

Yesi Lagunas

I see now that I should feel no shame or guilt in being who I am. Dealing with the guilt I’ve carried is a lifelong process that I cannot speed up because it must go at its own pace. For now, I am reacquainting with my inner, inquisitive child – and still asking a lot of questions.