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Culture Features International Voices

Growing up in Indiana: From Mexico, to Terre Haute, and Back

While I consider myself a Mexican since I was born and spent my childhood in that country, in reality I became who I am in a midwest town in Indiana called Terre Haute. I spent all my teenage years there, enjoying and learning from the people who gave me and my family a warm welcome to what I can today call my home outside of Mexico. As I am approaching the end of my undergraduate college experience, I often look back and reflect on how the past has helped me arrive where I am today.

I moved to Terre Haute in 2008 in the midst of an economic crisis in the United States and the start of a violent period back in Mexico. Yet I recall arriving to Indiana with the highest of expectations about my future. I was only 11 years-old at the time, so my mind was excited to make friends and live an American lifestyle. In the 6 years of my life there I achieved more than what I had expected since it was there where I defined my values and character.

Perhaps Terre Haute’s greatest contribution to me was teaching me to care for my education and to keep improving myself. Once we moved to the town, I continued going to elementary school. But, unlike in Mexico, here I learned how to trust in myself; I didn’t know English too well so I had to rely on my decisions and what knowledge I did have of the language. This was also my introduction to the American school system, to which I soon became acclimated to. There I realized that American schools let me be more independent about my studies than Mexican schools, teaching me to enjoy my free time and be responsible at the same time. This lifestyle continued at Honey Creek Middle School, where having lockers and going to classes was highly enjoyable. Back in Mexico I understood the teacher-student relationship to be more authoritarian, so having friendly teachers was a dream come true. I also enjoyed middle school because within a week I was exposed to the arts, sciences, history, and sports. These three years of middle school opened a world of endless possibilities and convinced me that I always had something new to learn or to improve upon.

Yet high school was the cherry on top of the cake as to how my stay in Terre Haute defined who I am today. By the time I started school at Terre Haute South I had become somewhat complacent about my capacity as a student. I originally had signed up for some advanced classes but most of them were regular courses, but the second half of Freshmen year I became aware I had the potential to do more. Walking around school and talking to teachers and upperclassmen let me see I had a lot of doors open for my development. So I decided to put school and knowledge above everything else. For the remaining years of high school I took more AP classes and joined as many student clubs as possible, all which taught me much of what I know today. I honestly thank all my teachers for being inspiring role models and knowledgeable instructors that encouraged me to be my best.

In Terre Haute, I also developed a mindset where diversity and others came first. Since day one, I met and established relationships with people from different backgrounds, many of which were international. It was here, in my Indiana hometown, that I became exposed to foreign ideas and beliefs, and the most surprising fact was that people were accepting of these differences. It was not strange to see people from two diverse backgrounds talk to each other while walking on the parks or meandering in the school’s hallways. I now appreciate this exposure to diversity that I had back then, which helped me become a more global person.

The best part about the diversity was that differences didn’t separate us, and instead encouraged us to get to know each other better. For instance, our neighbors in Terre Haute were Muslim Arabs, and the questions about each other’s cultures made us become great friends. The same happened in other environments where my teachers supported such discussions and the students were willing to learn from each other. Perhaps the best example of such harmony was at church. My parents and I got involved in starting a Spanish-speaking community at local Catholic temple that had a large American and Filipino communities. These two groups ultimately offered us help and never hesitated to support the growing Hispanic community. People from Terre Haute showed me how to have an open heart and an honest concern to help others.

In the end, what stuck most to my soul was that drive to continually make Terre Haute a better place. There were so many volunteer opportunities and organizations that sought to improve the community. Environmental clubs, clubs about human rights and diversity, all had a mission to create a better town. I personally learned a lot with the Big Brother Big Sister and Teen Court Volunteer programs that focused on Terre Haute’s future, its youth. These and other organizations worked for the community to make the town reach its potential. Thanks to this work, I understood that I am part of something bigger, and working along with others helped me grow an identity as a member of the community

When I eventually moved back to Mexico, I was sad to move away from such a wonderful town, and now that I am at Temple I’m extremely nostalgic about the life I had growing up in Indiana. I honestly cannot thank Terre Haute enough for helping me become who I am today. The experiences I encountered and the environment where I developed had a huge impact on my thoughts and values. While the Indiana chapter of my life may remain far behind me in my youth, the people and places are still in my heart, and I often travel back in time to relive the friendships and lessons that I had back then. Thanks to these experiences, I call myself a Mexican of Indiana, or Mexican Hoosier, for both Mexico and Terre Haute molded my Identity. One day I hope to go back there and return the favor for all the great memories I made in Terre Haute.