Book by Andrew Garrod, Robert Kilkenny, and Christina Gómez
Review by Amy K. O’Dowd
Academic Advisor
Briercrest College

 “Dignity and Doubt.”  “The Double Life.”  “The Hatred Within.” These chapters from Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories reflect not only the external and internal conflicts that mark the lives of the book’s fifteen student contributors, but the struggles of Latino men and women on campuses throughout the United States. Garrod, Kilkenny, and Gómez compiled the memoirs of fifteen Dartmouth students who expose the reader to a fantastic range of intimate thoughts, private moments, heartbreaking histories, and personal triumphs. Although each essay reflects a unique experience, collectively they define the status of many young Latinos in higher education and thus make the book a welcome contribution to the research on diversity within the academe.

These fifteen students are, in some ways, as different from each other as any fifteen students we might meet on campus: rich and poor, from stable families and dysfunctional ones, oppressed and privileged, addicted and sober. Yet they share the struggle to come to terms with what it means to be Latino, the endeavor to find positive role models, and the effort to meet expectations of some and defy the expectations of others. Each of the fifteen authors discusses how they grapple with their Latino-ness, or “Latinadad,” including what Latinadad means growing up and what it means on campus.  How did their home, family, income, and language affect their sense of being either “too-white” or stereotypical?  One student-author said that being Latino created a “duality of lives” for him (p.17).  Another student expresses the same feeling:

                    “When I’m with my white friends, I feel very Mexican.  I have accents on certain
                    Spanish words…I listen to Spanish music…I am proud of being Mexican…When
                     I am around other Latinos, I feel more stiff and serious around them…I do not
                    speak Spanish…At home, I feel ‘white’ because I go to college, get good grades,
                    play piano…” (p. 113).

The editors did an excellent job finding articulate student authors with a diverse collection of stories to tell. Several students expressed the uncertainty of thinking of oneself primarily as a Puerto Rican, a Dominican, a Colombian, a Mexican, or an American. Many found their first taste of comfort with their heritage after joining a Latino campus organization. The search for positive role models was also a common thread in these autobiographies. While several praised their parents for their bravery, ingenuity, and fortitude, others fought the traditional gender roles to which their parents adhered. The image of the stereotypical Latino male – abusive and macho – was also pervasive in these chronicles. Some bemoaned the lack of minorities with whom they could identify; others longed for the opportunity to become a positive role model and give back to their community. They also shared the experience of trying to fulfill the expectations of family and community.

Mi Voz, Mi Vida is not a manual for advising Latino students; it spent very little time addressing the educational issues faced by the authors as students at Dartmouth. One wishes that they had spent a bit more time sharing that part of their experience. Still this book serves as a good reminder that we as advisors should view each of our students, whether Latino, African-American, or International, as individuals who come to us with their own stories based upon a family and a culture that has shaped them.  I would recommend this book to any academic advisor who wants to understand students in context.

Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories. (2007)  Book by Andrew Garrod, Robert Kilkenny, and Christina Gómez (Eds.), Review by Amy K. O’Dowd. Cornell University Press, 280pp., $19.95, (paperback), ISBN # 978-0-8014-7386-9
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