by Angelina Vasilevsky, American Red Cross in Greater NY
“Three Questions” is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.
American Red Cross volunteer and AmeriCorps member Bridgette Espinoza currently serves the Latino Engagement program that seeks out ways to better serve immigrant communities in Greater NY and across the country. She was born and raised in the Bronx, is a first generation Mexican-American. Bridgette went to St. John’s University, where she double majored in Psychology and Spanish.
How has your Mexican heritage shaped your identity?
Growing up my dad would really emphasize that we speak Spanish and I can't be more thankful for that because it really cultivated the language. I am able to speak it very comfortably thanks to him. I maintained such a strong connection to my cultural upbringing. I didn’t get to travel to Mexico until I was around 18 years old, but ever since then, I went back almost every year, to the point where I am actually planning on having my wedding over there. When when I first visited, I got to see and meet my dad's side of the family for the first time. It’s interesting because all of the stories that he used to tell us started to make sense. I could picture him running to the corner store and running across the street. We also got to visit the town my mom grew up in, and it's very distinct in the sense that it's very rural. My dad jokes that there are more dogs in that town than there are people. It meant a lot to see where my mom came from. It's interesting imagining her coming from such a small town, to living and doing so well in New York City.
Why did you join AmeriCorps and the American Red Cross?
One of the main reasons I signed up for AmeriCorps is because they offered an incredible opportunity. It's kind of funny because I've come full circle. I knew about it and wanted to apply right out of undergraduate, but it took me about three years to finally send it out. In my immediate work [as AmeriCorps and Red Cross], I am currently supporting the Home Fire Campaign. In New York City we have such a diverse community and a lot of families that ask for fire alarms, also ask for Spanish education pieces. Right now one of our major events is coming up, and we are hoping to assist those families in getting their fire safety education in Spanish. Hopefully that will work out for both our clients and our Spanish-speaking volunteers.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the Latino Engagement Team?
It connects to how I grew up and that relates to a lot of Latino parents, kids and just the community overall. An important factor that I consider, is that English is not everyone's first language. I often think about my mom, who is not tech savvy. Growing up whenever she needed to pay a bill for example, we had to call customer service. So you grow up kind of having to be an advocate for your own parents. Additionally, there are a lot of factors of fear in the Latino community, as well as pride. With my background in psychology I know for the Latino community it is taboo to speak about getting resources or asking for help, especially if it’s related to mental health. I think it’s important to assure families and let them know that it's okay to seek out help in whatever way they need it.