You had me at hello…kitty

Post by Merrybelle Guo

Often, we compartmentalize or stereotype the things around us. This can be helpful in trying to make sense of the world but it’s only a first step, and it’s often one that will (or should) be shaken. Before going to South Texas, I likely had preconceived notions of what life was like down in the Valley, whether conscious of them or not. Texas itself conjures rich images, let alone a community living on the border of the U.S. and Mexico that is majority Hispanic. Though I knew a population we would encounter were Winter Texans (folks that live farther north during the summer months, but come down to Texas for the winter), the descriptions that influenced my thoughts the most had to do with the area’s close proximity to the Mexico border.

As our week progressed, one of the things I was struck by was the diversity of the area. Yes, there is a strong Hispanic presence, yes, there are probably more cowboy boots than feet to wear them, yes, there were livestock fairs and rodeos, yes, there was salsa on the radio, and yes, Spanish is almost equally visible as English in many public spaces. But, there were also community centers that offered tai chi classes, Hello Kitty moonwalks, elementary schools with unicorn mascots, tightknit family networks as the norm, and yes, Taylor Swift still got her share of radio airtime. It wasn’t quite like the Texas we imagine in popular culture and it certainly couldn’t be reduced to an extension of Mexico. It was special and unique, and it could not be compartmentalized into a neat box of understanding.

As future public health practitioners (and/or researchers), I think one of our biggest and most important challenges will be to fight against our preconceived notions of a people or place that we are meant to serve or work with. We must stay open to learning about the place from the people who live there, and instead of focusing on all the problems, we must also make time to focus on the assets because they are there, they are plentiful, and they may not fit in a box.


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