Edith Molina: In Her Own Words

Growing up in a strange land

As an OSU student, Edith Quiroz Molina (Class of 2002) participated in the research that led to the “One and a Half Generation Mexican Youth in Oregon” report. Now living in Troutdale, Oregon, she is the chief executive officer of BilingualHire, a Chicano consulting business in Portland, with two other OSU alumni. She also works part time as an academic adviser for the College Assistance Migrant Program at Portland Community College, Rock Creek Campus. When not behind a desk or in meetings, she co-hosts “Tonalli,” a Spanish radio talk show on KBOO 90.7 FM, and volunteers with the Portland Women’s Union Foundation. She is current chair of the Chicano/Latino Alumni Association (CHAOSU).

In the following interview, she describes her youth, her OSU experience and her current work.

Terra: What do you remember most about your early years in Mexico?

Molina: I remember the good times I spent with my immediate and my extended family. I lived in Mexico City until I was in fifth grade. I remember my school and friends. I loved being involved in school. I was one of the six students who were chosen, based on their academic standing and good behavior, to escort the Mexican flag every Monday during a ceremony (our pledge of allegiance). This was a very prestigious role to have, and my parents were very proud of me. My father who had already been living in The Dalles, Oregon, sent me some money so that my mother could afford to buy the expensive uniform I had to wear.

On the weekends my aunts, uncles and a long list of cousins would get together and enjoy some delicious authentic Mexican food, including quesadillas, tacos, pozole — all kinds of elaborate meals. My life in Mexico was great; I was very happy.

Terra: What was it like for you leaving home and spending the rest of your youth in the United States?

Molina: At first, the idea of coming to the United States and reuniting with my father, whom I had not seen in one year, was exciting. He would send us many letters with pictures of the places he visited in Oregon and the fields in which he worked, the food he ate, the stores, the schools and pictures of Mt. Hood and the snow-covered pine trees. To me and my siblings, the U.S. seemed like a paradise; we couldn’t wait to come.

Several months before my father actually arrived in Mexico to pick us up, my mother had already taken us out of school, because once I moved into 6th grade and my brothers into high school she would not have been able to afford our uniforms, books and supplies that were required. She had no money and no choice.

My parents have always valued education, and my father knew that the only way for his children to continue with their education was to bring them here to the U.S. And so in December of 1989 we arrived in The Dalles. Even though we had dreams of coming here, the reality of us leaving our homeland didn’t really sink in until we had been living here for one month. I was 11 years old, and once we settled in, I began to feel extremely homesick, depressed, angry, confused and frightened. Once I started school all those feelings intensified even more, because I didn’t speak English, and I didn’t look like the rest of the students in school.

That period of my life and the rest of my teen years were difficult. I missed my school, friends and relatives. Once I began to speak English and became bilingual and bicultural, it was even more stressful. My parents and I began to clash. They had different expectations of me. They wanted to raise me the way teens are raised in Mexico, but we were not there, and I wanted to experience the life of teens here in the U.S. For example, I wasn’t allowed to go to prom because my parents could not understand what that was all about. My youth years were a struggle for me and my older siblings, but especially more for my parents. They could not understand that I was living in two different worlds and trying to balance the expectations of both. They were living in another country, but remained in their Mexican world.

Terra: Tell us about your experience at Oregon State — academics and community.

Molina: I had a great life-changing experience at OSU. It has been the best decision I ever made, and the best time I’ve ever had.

When I was a junior in high school, I went on a college visit with the migrant program. We visited several colleges, but once we visited OSU, I was convinced. The Latino students at the time made us feel extremely welcome; they were enthusiastic about their time at OSU. I also met Latino professors and staff, and they too were very nice and encouraging. The campus seemed not too small or too big. It was the perfect size for a Mexican girl used to living in a small town.

Most of the students that I also met on that visit were involved in campus with several student-run organizations such as the Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), the Hispanic Student Union and others. After learning about all the activities that the MEChA students had accomplished on campus and the cultural events they were planning, I knew right away that I would become a MEChistA (a member of MEChA).

And so during the five years that I spent at OSU, I was a leader of MEChA, external coordinator for the Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez for two consecutive years, a radio host with OSU KBVR, sat on the Kalmekak Community Outreach advisory board and earned my Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in ethnic studies and sociology.

Being involved with the campus community was the easy part for me, but being the first one in my family to go to college and being away from home were the most difficult. My academic experience was also challenging, especially when I experienced unpleasant discrimination or racist acts from professors and students. I experienced my very first racist experience towards the end of my first year, and it was really difficult to heal from it and continue my studies. At one point I almost dropped out, but OSU has great support systems established for students of color such as the Minority Educational Offices, Ethnic Studies Department, College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), EOP, the four cultural centers and others. I am thankful that I got involved with all of these resources, and if it weren’t for their existence on campus, I probably would not be today sharing my college experience. All of these experiences, the good and the bad, have shaped the person I am today, and I would love to do it again.

Terra: How did OSU prepare you for the work do you do now?

Molina: At OSU I learned many, many leadership, organizing and communication skills as well as academic knowledge. Being part of the College of Liberal Arts really gave me a well-rounded education. Therefore the work that I do now involves putting in practice everything that I learned. My ethnic studies degree helped me to create BilingualHire, Inc., a Chicano consulting business with the help of two other OSU alumni (one of them my husband). Our services include cultural competency seminars and Spanish language trainings. We also provide motivational and leadership workshops for youth and adults. Through our business we connect employers with bilingual professionals to help them advance their careers and retain our talented Chicanos/Latinos in Oregon.

With my sociology degree I have worked in the nonprofit sector as program manager, and today I work part-time as an academic adviser for the College Assistance Migrant Program at Portland Community College, Rock Creek Campus.

In the volunteer part of my life, which is essential for my growth and happiness, I have volunteered for four years as a producer and co-host of “Tonalli,” a Spanish radio talk show on KBOO 90.7FM. I am a trustee of the Portland Women’s Union Foundation and the current chair of the Chicano/Latino Alumni Association (CHAOSU).

Terra: What has your experience taught you about the ability of Mexican children growing up in the U.S. to make a difference in their communities, to lead productive lives?

Molina: Mexican children who grow up in the U.S. have tremendous assets to make a difference in our communities. Our experiences in and outside of the educational system equip us with the strength we will need as we move into adulthood. We are more resilient than others and are fully bilingual and bicultural, which is important because those skills allow us to be the link between mainstream culture and Mexican or Latino culture. We become advocates of civil rights, education, health and environment.

We can navigate two different worlds but, at the same time, keep a balance between the expectations and traditions of both. Some people can do it much more easily than others, but for the most part, once we get into our 30s or 40s, we are pretty much settled into the two worlds. And, yes, most of us end up living very productive lives.

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