The quinceanera is an important tradition in the lives of many young women of Latin American heritage. For Diana Ramirez-Torres, 18, it became an interstate and international event that finally wound up with a celebration of 250 family members and friends in Santa Rosa, California.
Ramirez-Torres was born in California but moved to Spokane after her father was deported to Mexico when she was 5. Here she was raised with her four siblings by her mother, who worked to support the family until disabled in a work accident five years ago.
As she approached her 15th birthday, when the quinceanera is celebrated, she was able to speak with her father, who wanted to help with this traditional event honoring family and marking a girl’s passage into womanhood. Because he was in Mexico, his family in California got together with her family in Spokane to put on the huge formal event.
It was a grand event, Ramirez-Torres said, that also helped her connect to her Mexican roots.
She remembers that when her father was deported, it was hard on her mother, and so she worked doubly hard not to make trouble. She always has helped at home and continues to care for younger siblings and take her mother grocery shopping because it’s physically hard for her mother to go on her own.
And she has thrown herself into school – both academically (she’s a member of the National Honor Society and takes a number of Advanced Placement classes) and many other activities. She is co-captain of the varsity tennis team and is on Link Crew. She also is a member of Key Club, is an Achievers Scholar and is active with Project Lead the Way, where she is involved in a yearlong project involving oil micelles and micrococcus bacteria research. And she is on the Spokane Guilds School high school advisory board and does some Spanish translation work at her church.
She wasn’t always this motivated, she said. She saw other students being encouraged but wasn’t experiencing much of that herself, and she wondered if she was being overlooked “because I was so different from everyone, because I was a brown kid. I may be just a little Mexican girl but I wanted to be motivated the way I saw other kids being motivated.” But then adviser Brian Venema noticed her. “He encouraged me, talked to me about college, inspired me,” Ramirez-Torres said.
Passionate about biomedicine, she is torn between pursuing biomedical engineering, “because I love the idea of curing diseases,” or becoming a vascular surgeon, “because if I’m going to be a surgeon, I want to really challenge myself.” And if the path into the future leads toward surgery, she would dearly love to work for Doctors Without Borders.
Ramirez-Torres has been accepted at the University of Washington and will attend there in the fall.
“I have learned that it doesn’t matter where you come from, where you grow up, what race you are,” she said. “You can do whatever you want if you work hard enough for it.”
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