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Liz, Adelante Benefit Youth Speaker

Liz Guerrero went to Nicaragua with AMIGOS for a Gap Program in 2017. She spoke at the Adelante Benefit in San Francisco on April 28, 2018. Below is a transcript of her speech.


Good evening, my name is Liz Guerrero, I am 19 years old and I’m a proud Amiga from 2017.

For you to understand who I am, you need to know that I spend a lot of time in my head.

So as you can imagine me standing here tonight is, well, a big deal. I feel like the universe has lined up for me to take down a barrier that is holding me back, so thank you for listening to my story.

I come from a big Mexican family and my family members are always close by. I have been raised in Oakland and attended Lionel Wilson High School.

I am 5 years apart from both my two older siblings and my two younger siblings. Growing up in this birth order, my role as the middle child was to bring calmness to our childish chaotic fights. And so, I never really learned how to speak up for myself.

These qualities carried over to my high school career and didn’t allow me to defend myself from other kid’s taunting and teasing. In order to protect myself, I built a protective wall to avoid my peers’ mean remarks.

Because of all the time I spent in my head, I was a mediocre academic student but at least I was an excellent extra curricular student. For example, I began to discover how strong I could be the moment I endured 3 hours of pain running a half marathon.

I often contemplate the risk my parents took immigrating to the US seeking a better life. I cannot imagine coming to a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on your back and still having the bravery to dream big.

For a long time, a $400 check had to be split between, 5 kids, a house falling apart, food, and monthly bills.

Despite my childhood’s circumstances, I am extremely fortunate to have been brought up the way I was. I have learned to take care of myself. And I have learned to appreciate even the smallest things.

When the time to apply to college arrived I found myself not sharing the same excitement with my classmates. I felt the urge to challenge myself in ways school can’t. If you can believe it, found AMIGOS online. I could tell from the website that it was a program that allows its participants to truly immerse themselves in their experience by offering a great deal of independence.

I wanted to learn things that only a world different from my own could teach me.

And so, I decided to take a path considered unusual by my friends and family. I chose to become an Amiga.

In fact, spending $6,000 on a program to volunteer abroad is considered outrageous by most people I know. A more realistic move would’ve been to save up money to buy a car and go to school.

It took me almost a year but I earned half the money to cover the cost of the trip myself. I’m so grateful to Krista for not just giving me an AMIGOS scholarship, but also investing her time in me.

I knew there were more relevant expenses I could be spending my money on, but I could see how my silent personality was having a negative effect on me and I knew this was something I had to do.  

So off I went to Nicaragua.

Saying goodbye to my family was okay. I was definitely sad but I was so looking forward to the trip. It was when we got to Miami and and I saw all the other AMIGOS students wearing the same shirts I thought, OMG, There are so many of them and… they are all white! I’m the only Mexican person. How am I going to talk with all of them?

At that moment, I was overwhelmed. Everybody who told me I wasn’t supposed to go on this trip was right. I knew my parents were scared because I would be their first kid to spend 4 months in a foreign country. That little voice kept saying, what were you thinking? And I felt so guilty for going on the program because I wasn’t going to be able to help my parents financially.

So I did what kids do. I called my mom.

I thought she might comfort me but instead she said,

What do you mean they’re all white? That doesn’t mean anything.

But I can’t relate to them, I said to her.

She told me, It’s time for you to get out of the nest.

I’m so grateful she cut the cord AND gave me encouragement. It was exactly what I needed at that moment.

So I got on the plane and flew to Nicaragua.

When we arrived, we spent the first week in a hostel. All of the students came from these big schools: Tufts, Columbia University. Relating to my peers has always been hard and here I was struggling with my AMIGOS peers.  I did what I usually do and went back to my old habits…back into my shell, and I didn’t talk to them for a whole week.

When we got to our host families, one of the girls on the program asked me to meet her at a café. I was kind of nervous to go meet up with her but then we started talking and laughing and I learned that she felt the same way that I did. Just like me she didn’t know how she was going to talk or relate to our fellow Amigos for the next four months, either.

This changed me. I all of a sudden didn’t feel so different. I started to let down a wall and I started feeling safe and comfortable in my own skin.

Over time, I realized we had more in common than I ever thought and I grew to love them.

Being Mexican American, I immediately felt I could relate to Nicaraguan people and I grew very close to my host mom. Every time we sat down to any meal, she would tell me all about her life. She laid it all out and I realized everyone struggles. It’s a part of life. I can’t describe how reassuring it feels to know that you have someone who cares about you in another country.

Meeting strong women — and men too — and hearing about their lives was one of the best parts about my experience. They truly opened my eyes to discrimination and systems of oppression. But I also learned from them that if you really want something, what will make you successful in life is your drive, your dedication, and your resilience.

Coming home wasn’t easy. I felt different. I felt like a new person. Yet, everything I learned about myself during my AMIGOS experience — my strength, my perseverance, and the vision I have for myself – reminds me on a daily basis I can not only dream big, but with hard work, reach my goals.

It’s experiences like these that will help young people develop into more conscious global citizens and into the change we want and need to see in the world.

As most of you know, AMIGOS changes us. It humbles us and opens our eyes to how much we have to grow. It’s easy to feel accomplished in your own environment. AMIGOS challenges young people to question if you really have reached your full potential.

Parents don’t need to be afraid to let their kids go through some discomfort and some pain because that is what is going to help us grow as a person.

My parents are not here tonight but if they were I would want thank them for being strong when I needed them to be. That I wouldn’t change the way I was brought up because it has made me who I am today. And that I love them.

We all have a voice inside of us that tries to keep us safe. But in doing so, that voice keeps us small. AMIGOS goes after that voice — and expands it — creating a bigger vision for yourself and for your place in the world.

Barriers are not there to hold you back, barriers are there simply to overcome.

For all of us, when we become an Amigo, there is no other choice but to grow.

Thank you.

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