A second life with Ari Barajas Q&A
November 5, 2018
Ari Barajas has long been self-aware of the fact that she is one of the only Latinx students at Community. Throughout high school, she has discovered that self-reflection is one of her most viable assets in navigating the social and academic scene at Community. Yet Barajas knows the moment she steps out of school, she enters her second life: one of uncertainty and determination.
Q: What are moments when you’re super self-aware of being Hispanic at Community?
A: I think the times when I’m most aware of my own cultural background is when people start sharing things that they do outside of school. During breaks, people go and travel a lot, and it’s a lot of traditions. But I’m a first-generation immigrant. So those traditions aren’t really well established. Because it is much more strenuous for a single mother, who is also an immigrant, to put something together. In my case, quality time with family is a luxury. In a sense, I almost sometimes feel like I don’t have a lot in common with people. But at the same time, I relate to people in other ways. Sometimes, I wish my background was different. And I wish I came from the same place that all these other people are coming from. But other times, I think in retrospect, I’m doing just as well [and I] come from a wildly different place. And it’s a bittersweet situation.
And what are your traditions?
My traditions get a little tricky. Since my mom works so often, all my siblings have all been very independent. I’ve had to make my own doctor’s appointments since the age of eight. Even when festivals and holidays come around, our traditions aren’t very well established. It’s so hard to get the family in a place because work is the number one thing. It has separated our family. But we do things on Christmas. Instead of having the traditional Christmas dinner that everybody has, we have a lot of Mexican influences on the dishes. That’s really nice when we are together. It feels good, but it is a little bit more difficult than most households.
Why do you think you and your siblings are so independent?
I think we’re so independent because I don’t really have a father figure in the picture. Not until just recently. My sister, who is now 27, took care of us when she was in high school. She was basically a second mother; she would come home and cook dinner, while simultaneously trying to balance her high school life. She started making dinner at twelve and taking care of three younger kids. I’m the first one out of all to afford to go to college, which has its pros and cons. I have to figure everything for myself. Before junior year, I didn’t know what a college application really looked like. I didn’t know what going to college really looked like at all. They’re all much older than I am, so we grew up very separate. Everyone has had to fend for themselves. And every achievement that I’ve ever achieved has been through my own research and having to sign myself up.
What are your older siblings’ names? And what do they do now?
My oldest sister, her name is Naomi. [The second’s] name is Paulina, third is my brother. My oldest sister, she has two kids, she’s married and just recently she completed two years in community college. She was just protected under DACA, so that enabled her to go to school. It was really hard [to attend] cheaply and she already had two children. My second oldest sister, she works a couple part-time jobs and she has one little girl; she’s married as well. My brother has done two years of college as well. They’ve all gone through community college, but it was very late because of DACA. They weren’t protected under DACA until a lot later. But my brother went to culinary school. He’s mostly worked at Italian restaurants. He worked at MANI. But he makes a really mean — what is that called? Bahn mi? Yeah, it’s a sandwich.
When your mom drives you to school, do you guys talk in the car?
Not really. In the past, she would pick me up [from school]. And it wasn’t like, “How’s your day? How are your friends?” Because she didn’t know any of them. She didn’t really ask me how my day was. My mom and I don’t really have a toxic relationship. But we don’t really have a well-developed relationship, because she was missing for a large part of my life. There was no structure at home. And so when I started emerging into adolescence, I became more closed off. Going into middle school and high school, the lack of relationship between my mom and I became a problem. I started going through things and she didn’t really understand. Mental health issues aren’t really talked about in Hispanic households. So she didn’t understand a lot of what I was going through. And when I told her that I had anxiety and other problems, she wanted to sit there and talk to me, like one sit-down was gonna fix it. It almost felt intrusive, because I didn’t really know her. That’s not to say she was a bad mother. But there’s just too many factors to talk about to why that was the way it was. I was trying to separate my school life from home and my home life from my own problems. Everything was very divided. And without realizing it, I made it like that just because it was easier to handle. And that’s how that was, but we’re going through the motions of getting better. But it almost seems like this year or maybe last year, we were just getting to know each other as people. And that was difficult to manage. But it’s a lot better now. We talked to each other a little bit more.
How do you think you were able to bring a structure into your own life?
I mean there’s only a handful of people that are completely aware of what my life is like. And I think those are the people who are more intensely, like, “You should do this.” [They] motivate me in the sense that we’ll talk and they’ll tell me, “I’m doing all these extracurricular things.” And on a school night, I process that like, “Maybe I should be doing this too.” But otherwise, it’s just me observing, trying to sort of make my life sort of mirror that.
Do you think developing study habits like set you up for a bit like high school? Or do you think you’ve still had to really struggle throughout high school?
I struggled through high school just because I was the only support system that I had at home academically. If one day I wasn’t feeling well, then I didn’t have someone encouraging me to do well. There wasn’t anyone else there to push me and discipline me. There were times in the school year where I was just like, “Wow, I’m really doing this myself.” I had to tell myself when to start studying for [SATs and ACTS]. I remember talking to other students [and they] were like, “My parents made me study the summer after eighth grade and I hated that.” But I wish I had someone who would sit down to tell me to study for this test. On top of having the struggles that every other student faces — [which] are already hard to deal with — I had to deal with things at home.
What do you want people at Community to know about you?
I’m constantly thinking about who I am. In interactions with friends, I’m always striving to be a good friend to them all the time. Or when I look at my stance on political issues. Even if I feel strongly about something, I’m always asking myself, “Am I really going about this the right way, and really looking at this the way that I should be?” I think I would want people to know that I always try to be a good person, even to people that I don’t know.