Strength in Numbers – A Latina’s Journey in Academia
By Ana Silverio University of New Hampshire, M.S Student, Marine Biology Quantitative Marine Ecology Lab Department of Biological Sciences
Comunidad. Community. That is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my family and my academic journey towards becoming a marine scientist. My parents are Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in pursuit of opportunity. To leave their family behind and start again in a new country with a new language takes immense strength. My parent’s immigrant story is not a story that belongs to me to speak on. Still, these experiences prompted my parents to instill a fight and resilience in me that I’m sure they sometimes regretted whenever I spoke my mind as a teenager.
That fight and resilience was mainly used in helping me dream big dreams like daring to utter the words “Mom… Dad… I want to save the world”. Growing up, my parents would tell me stories of growing up in a coastal fishing town, about their time in nature and the value the ocean gives when spending that time in communion with loved ones. These stories of community in the outdoors inspired my goal of protecting it from a changing world and learning more about our oceans and coastal habitats.
With my family’s support, I started my academic journey by graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology/Marine Science from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020. For a lot of that first part of the journey, it was hard not to become just a number in their sea of students. I was making my parents incredibly proud of being the first person in my family to attend a university, but inside I felt alone navigating these open waters. I didn’t feel confident in my academic and career choices; I felt naïve at the goals I was setting for myself, and I was plagued with imposter syndrome in every lecture hall I walked into. There was so much hidden curriculum in this system I was trying to navigate by myself.
It wasn’t until I found a community of amazing peers in the marine science club on campus and a community of Latinos in my field who all shared similar first-generation children of immigrants experiences with me that I felt less foolish in these dreams and less afraid. These communities were the first to show me that marine scientists CAN look like me. With the support of my community and my family, I got my bachelor’s degree. Now I’m in graduate school pursuing my Master’s of Science in marine biology in hopes of working at the intersection of protecting the oceans and the coastal communities that rely on its health.
“Si se puede” is much louder with a community rallying behind you. I am a marine scientist thanks to my community of Latinos in Marine Sciences, who have reminded me of the proud Mexican-American woman I am. It is an identity I will bring with me, unapologetically, into the rest of my scientific career.