Brittany Castro, a sixth-generation Mexican-Puerto Rican American, identifies herself as a "no-sabo" kid. Growing up in south Phoenix, she struggled to feel sufficiently connected to her Mexican, Hispanic, or Puerto Rican heritage. It wasn't until she embarked on her journey in higher education that she developed a stronger bond with her cultural roots. As a first-generation Latina college student, her personal experiences now allow her to connect more deeply with the students she mentors.
Castro faced challenges with her identity, particularly because neither of her parents spoke Spanish. She vividly recalls questioning her grandmother about why she never taught her mother the language.
"I asked, 'Why didn't you teach my mom Spanish?' She told me that during her and my mom's upbringing, speaking Spanish was discouraged, mainly because it brought with it a negative stigma. So, she thought, 'My daughters or my kids, they won't need to know Spanish.' I understand where my grandma was coming from, given the mindset of her generation."
As a first-generation college student, Castro's mother played a pivotal role in emphasizing the importance of education, starting when Brittany was in kindergarten. "My generation is the first to truly value college. While some of my family might finish high school, my parents encouraged me from a young age. I remember my mom, when I was around five, insisting that I should go to college because it would be great for me."
In high school, Castro joined the Achieving a College Education (ACE) program, allowing her to take college classes while completing her high school diploma. This experience opened doors, and despite initially aiming for Arizona State University, a visit from a South Mountain Community College (SMCC) recruiter led her to choose community college for her continued education.
Little did she know that this decision would set the stage for her higher education career and future life goals. After working at the bookstore at SMCC, a pivotal moment occurred when she was offered a federal work-study position within the ACE office, solidifying her path.
"I truly believe that I'm in this position today at GateWay because of the ACE program. They saw my potential, and it opened the door to join GateWay."
As the early college program coordinator, Castro interacts with and mentors students similar to her younger self. Leveraging her lived experiences and cultural background, she connects with students, offering guidance and support.
Reflecting on her higher education journey, Castro now understands the significance of being bilingual and cherishing her cultural heritage. She's actively learning Spanish through Duolingo and values the support of her colleagues in the Early College program.
While pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Sciences at South Mountain Community College, Castro credits her associates degree for much of her success.
"Just having an associates degree has opened so many doors for me and provided me with financial stability. It's helped me secure this current position. It's been a game-changer."
When asked about the importance of completing her education, Castro emphasizes its impact on future generations. "It influences the next six or seven generations. Education breaks the cycles of poverty and insecurity, paving the way for growth."
As for the future, Castro’s dreams are big, aspiring to one day lead an organization and shape the lives of students for generations to come. While she keeps many specifics under wraps, her passion for making a lasting impact is evident.