Skye Lamarre
Staff Writer

At the beginning of Camila Castaneda’s college career, she thought that she would be working in the medical field as a clinical laboratory scientist. Now, the Biology major has her heart set on pursuing a master’s degree in Latin American Studies. She plans to combine this degree with an emphasis in Public Health. She stated that, with this master’s degree, she “will have the knowledge to educate Hispanic and Latinx communities about how to treat and prevent health disparities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.” Advocating for Hispanic and Latino communities not only applies to Castaneda’s master’s degree, but to her bachelor’s degree as well. She originally chose to major in Biology so that she could advocate for and represent both females and the Hispanic and Latinx communities.

Castaneda never would have considered pursuing a master’s degree in Latin American Studies if she had not taken classes with Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish José R. Flores. She said that Professor Flores “showed her it was possible to merge the two things that she wanted to do and to not give up.” With the support of Professor Flores and that of her other professors, she felt valued and confident in her abilities. This eventually led her to apply for a position as a volunteer in the American Red Cross. With the support and encouragement of her professors, she was able to take part in the program last November as a content reviewer for the Diversity and Inclusion department.

Castaneda regards the Red Cross and the First Generation & Allies Club as significant influences in her college career. However, it is important to note that these are not the only influences she felt were worth mentioning. Castaneda also said that her family has greatly influenced her college journey. Her father has a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Her mother has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Literature and a master’s degree in Social Work. While she was growing up, Castaneda’s parents told her many stories about the struggles that they endured as immigrants in order to receive an education. Those stories made her “want to follow in their footsteps and to make them proud.” Currently, Castaneda feels that the support of her family has “made her feel safer” even when she is intimidated by what the future holds.

The Whittier College community has also been a great source of support for Castaneda in more ways than one. She originally chose to attend Whittier College because she was attracted to its atmosphere of acceptance, as well as the strength and power of its small community. Once she was on campus, the small community helped to broaden Castaneda’s perspective about education as a whole. The actions of professors and the Whittier College community “really showed her how important education is” and “provided her with a positive educational influence,” she said. She also stated that the resources Whittier College provides, such as the counseling center, have helped her feel supported during overwhelming moments.

Whittier College also helped Castaneda find her own personal community. Her classes with Professor Flores helped Castaneda find a community of individuals who shared cultures that were similar to her own. Being half-Mexican and half-Salvadorian, she often struggled with her identity. Communities like the one she found in Professor Flores’s classes made her feel less alone. 

Castaneda’s study abroad experience in Southern Spain also provided her with a sense of community. During the faculty-led Jan Term course with Professor of Spanish Doreen O’Connor-Gómez, she was surrounded by other Latino students who were also Biology majors. She said that “the class there created a bond that she would not have had anywhere else.” In fact, she credited this experience as being one of her favorite Whittier College memories. One particular moment that stood out to her from the trip happened on the last day of school. On that day, Castaneda and the other students participated in a cooking class: “Everyone laughing and cooking traditional food was a very memorable moment.” She also said that, by the end of the course, she and the other students had “created a community that would last a lifetime.”

Going forward, Castaneda plans to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Utah. After that, she wants to become a health educator and to work for the Red Cross. She hopes that, by pursuing those positions, she will be able to bring information to multiple communities around the world and make a positive impact while doing so. 

Castaneda’s advice for current Whittier College students was stated as follows: “Be open to accepting help from teachers, staff, and peers. Be open to accepting new ideas. Allow yourself to be open to other opportunities that come to you!”

Featured Image: Courtesy of Camila Castaneda

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