This summer, I had the tremendous fortune of getting the opportunity to interview Mariana Fernandez, the founder of the Redefy Mexico chapter. This past year, Mariana graduated from Prepa Ibero high school where she was heavily involved with social justice. During her time in high school, Mariana was dedicated to expanding Tabú, a club that is committed to informing the community about sexual health and gender equality. Consequently, she has participated in social assistance programs. She enjoys reading, playing tennis, and spending times with family and friends in her free time.
During college, she plans to follow her passions in psychology and art history. Afterwards, she hopes to continue her education by pursuing graduate degrees in human rights and cultural management, while also contributing to academia. Her goal is to work in International Amnesty or to have her own NGO.
Mariana believes Redefy is imperative for our generation because it “gives a voice to the young.” More specifically, she believes in its importance because it informs individuals on current issues and allows them to acknowledge the situations that are taking place across the globe. She asserts that “Redefy inspires us to take action however we can in a positive way, creating a united young community of leaders from around the world.”
How do you think bilingualism plays a role in shaping diverse communities?
“My history teacher at school once said that every language creates a different perspective of the world. In Spanish, we have words or sayings for things that English speakers would never think of, and vice versa. By knowing a second language, you learn all about the culture that created that language, and more importantly, their view on the world.
Being bilingual can help create strong friendships by looking for the things a person has in common with another. When language is a barrier, you look for universal signs to communicate. But when you share a common language with another person, even when it is not your mother tongue, it is easier to look for other things you have in common, to learn first hand about their culture, to make their culture close to your heart, and most importantly, to humanize them. Knowing a second language opens your mind not only figuratively, but also literally by making new connections in your brain.”
As a citizen of a foreign country with its own language, how do you respond to acts of hatred towards people who chose to converse in their native language?
“Here in Mexico we have about 65 native languages that are slowly but surely being wiped off by the racist culture we were all raised in. I think the same happens in the U.S.
The United States was founded by immigrants and has a history of receiving people and helping them achieve the American Dream. It really makes no sense to me that there is that much racism in the U.S.
People who choose to converse in their own language have the right to do so, for they learned it and it is, as I mentioned before, a huge part of the way they view the world. You cannot take away someone’s sense of belonging just because you don’t know the language or have not had the opportunity to humanize people from cultures that differ from yours. Instead of attacking them, maybe try to understand that it’s exhausting to speak a second language all day. They are taking a break and expressing themselves in the language they know best. We need to learn to embrace the differences and make the best out of them.”
How do you think situations like the one previously mentioned will impact the perception of cultural diversity in society?
“The lack of respect for differences makes cultural diversity seem like something we shouldn’t be proud about. Making other people feel ashamed of the language they speak or afraid to walk in their own neighborhood just because they don’t look a certain way is something that makes the world poorer everyday, because it makes people who don’t belong to certain cultures try to fit in them. This makes everyone lose the opportunity to view the world in a different way. Different perspectives help make the world a better place.”
How can our generation combat hate and prejudice that are directed at people of minorities who chose to speak in their native language?
“If you can, learn a different language: this will help you humanize those who don’t speak your first language as well as you do. If you can’t learn another language, maybe read about other cultures or make friends with those who are different from yourself. This way, you’ll learn to love the differences and make your life richer with new perspectives. As a generation, let’s unite to embrace the fact that only by sticking together will we accomplish total acceptance. When you see someone being bullied for being different, think of a safe way to help them: ask for help or talk your way out of the situation. Let’s keep in mind that violence is not the solution and walk the talk.”
How can communities, such as in the workplace and schools, foster opportunities to practice and develop language and cultural activities?
“By assigning projects about other cultures, encouraging the understanding of current international issues, game nights, world fairs, etc. Although English is mandatory for all schools in Mexico, not all of them teach about diversity. Public education is something we need to improve NOW. Some private schools encourage students to learn new languages or to involve themselves in exchange programs to promote cultural inclusivity. Just as diversity and prejudice are problems in the U.S., Mexico is the same. There are a lot of things to improve here. As a generation, we can unite and pact to make a better future for all.”
Why do you think that it is important to pass native language from generation to generation ?
“Because it creates a sense of belonging for the new generations — a connection to your own cultural roots, a sense of pride about being who you are and having been born where you were. By learning a second language, people are able to show the world what their culture and their roots have to contribute. Being bilingual gives a richer perspective and a way to communicate in ways you couldn’t with other languages. Multicultural customs are what makes a society grow and transform to meet everyone’s needs.
In conclusion, bilingualism only causes good things: different perspectives, open-mindedness, and a richer culture, among other things. That is why it is important to pass languages from generation to generation. If you know more than one language, it’s important to pass it on as a cultural favor for the future.”
*Interview has been edited for clarity
If you are interesting in becoming a Chapter Leader like Mariana, please apply using the link below!