A large part of the North Tahoe High School student body and Kings Beach community, including myself, come from Latinx descent. I have lived in Tahoe my entire life. However, in my 16 years in our Kings Beach community, I have witnessed a lack of authentic cultural representation for our Latinx community.
As a student and community member, this caught my attention, because as I’ve grown older, I have begun to recognize and understand how much representation matters. My peers, young children, and I are often influenced by what is portrayed around us and on social media. I’ve learned that when given the opportunity to see positive images of our authentic culture it helps to build our confidence as well as helps other students who may not have exposure to other cultures become more understanding.
There is a fine line between ensuring accurate diversification and tokenism. Countless times I have witnessed my own community participate in activities and celebrations for the Latinx community that were based purely on stereotypes. One event our Kings Beach community looks forward to every year is the Cinco De Mayo celebration at a local restaurant. This is one of the few celebrations for the Latinx community and yet we have failed to be accurately represented. The event includes Chihuahua races, a taco munching contest, and tortilla tossing. These activities are all solely based on stereotypes; not all Latinx people have Chihuahuas, eat tacos, and, most importantly, we do not all consume tortillas in our everyday lives. Events like this enforce the idea of the stereotypical Latinx person and deprive others of the opportunity to be exposed to, and gain awareness of, authentic Latinx culture. How will our Latinx generations feel recognized, empowered, and inspired to share their culture if our community does not provide spaces that accurately represent people who are meant to look and sound like us?
Everyone wants to feel as if they are included in the community. I strongly believe we can accomplish this by creating new, inclusive environments that authentically represent many voices. Representation has such a powerful impact on how we view, treat, and understand ourselves and others, both within and outside of our race or ethnicity. What better way to show our Latinx community members that they matter than to create a safe space where we can share and teach their culture authentically?
In May, Miguel Sanchez Lopez, Alondra Herrera, and I — all students at North Tahoe High School — took the initiative on this issue and organized an event at the Tahoe Backyard in Kings Beach to celebrate and demonstrate Latinx culture. Local Latinx artists and performers such as mariachi musician Del Lago, Dulce Aburto Sanchez, who danced baile folklorico, and DJ Raul Aburto all donated their time to celebrate Latinx culture. Local Latinx-owned vendors El Buen Sazon, Rincon de Adobe, and Aldana Fernandez Photography also attended the event to sell food, jewelry, and other Latinx-inspired merchandise. The Latinx Club from North Tahoe High School, Axohelados, and Susie Scoops contributed free desserts and aguas frescas. Creating Latinx spaces and events is important to me because I want our Latinx community members to feel recognized and celebrated as they are equally as important within our community.
It is challenging to be culturally honest in representation. However, authentic representation has the ability to empower people, strengthen role models, and allow everyone to express their core personalities once this barrier has been crossed. Through events like this, we can inspire the younger generations of our community to create new and inclusive environments for themselves and others in order to be welcoming of everyone’s diverse individual identities.
~ Vallerie Laguna has taken many leadership roles at North Tahoe High School, including captain of the soccer and basketball teams, and vice president of the Latinx club her freshman year. She looks forward to being the Latinx president and junior class president for the 2023/24 school year.