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Maria Aguilera

What is your role and area of focus here at Vanderbilt University?

I am a sophomore double majoring in secondary education and math. My focus is education (specifically middle and high school). I hope to gain many tools here at Vanderbilt, so that I can return home and empower minority students through math, providing them a very valuable tool that they may choose to use when picking a career path.

What made you choose Vanderbilt?

Peabody College gave me a very special opportunity to receive high quality training for becoming a teacher so that I can best serve my future students.

Who are the key people that influenced you and helped you on your journey?

My parents have always been my greatest supporters. Their decision to immigrate to the United States to provide my brother and me the best opportunities they could inspires me to take advantage of what is available to me. Their courage to leave everything behind in El Salvador for the future of their children is something I can never repay them for, but every day I do my best to make them proud of the daughter they have raised.

What do you love about being Latinx?

I love the diversity within our culture. Being Latinx does not mean one particular thing, and there are hundreds of identities that lie under the umbrella term of “Latinx.” However, despite all this diversity, I love that across cultures and identities, some customs hold universal to all and unite us as one.

What does your Latinx identity add to your role here at Vanderbilt?

It makes me stand out in a way I have never stood out before. Not in a bad way or in a good way, but I am more cognizant of the color of my skin and the traditions/cultures I come from. I am able to bring what I know to a community that is eager to learn more about Latinx culture.

What do you want others to know about the Latinx identity?

I want others to know of the diversity within the identity. I wish others knew more about the challenges we face individually and together, both back home in our native countries and in America.

What message do you have for the Vanderbilt community about serving and supporting Latinx community?

We are present on campus! Regardless of how small our representation on campus is, we want to share our culture with the rest of the Vanderbilt community. In a climate where terms such as “immigrant,” “refugee” and “international” are associated with “outsider” and “invader,” I want the Vanderbilt community to know that we are united and empowered through education and are a part of one another’s experience on campus. We should not divide ourselves based only on what we are comfortable with. Stepping outside our comfort zone works both ways and we are eager to share and learn.

What mark do you hope to leave on Vanderbilt/your community/the nation/the world?

I hope to empower Latinx individuals: children of immigrants, children who were brought over to the States from a young age, second- or third-generation immigrants. As a high school math teacher, I want students who look at math and say “this is too hard, it’s not for me,” to open their minds to the possibility that they can be good at math and use it as a tool instead of looking at it as a requirement.

Please give us an interesting or fun fact about you.

I am an avid coffee drinker. Growing up, coffee was a social drink, so there was always someone drinking coffee at any hour of the day at home.