By Liana Shivers, VA High School Program Coordinator
Photo courtesy of Liana
Hi Everyone, my name is Liana Shivers and I am the new VA High School Program Coordinator for AALEAD, and I am uber excited to be part of the AALEAD community! I was born in Delaware, but pretty much grew up in Virginia. I recently graduated from George Mason University with a degree in Global Affairs, concentrating on Media, Communication, and Culture.
So, what drew me to AALEAD? Where do I even begin? It was three things really: educational empowerment, identity development, and the level of youth engagement involved in AALEAD’s mission. It is as if someone took three things I care about the most and packaged them up in a nice bow. Educational empowerment is key to me. School was everything to me as a child and going to a four year university was never a question of if, but how. My father was not around growing up though, and my mother attended school in a different country. Thus, navigating all my educational experiences was largely a solo path full of headaches, questions, and a lot of overthinking. If I can help others avoid the frustration I experienced growing up, I will. The youth engagement aspect was as exciting to me. I am lucky or blessed to have been raised by a mother that allowed me to voice my thoughts freely, and encouraged me to follow the path that I felt was best for me within reason. I love that AALEAD is shaped around the youth’s voice and truly embraces them.
The area that really drew me in though is identity. I am mixed; my mother is from Panama while my father is half Cherokee and half Black. Growing up in the U.S., I had various issues with my identity and finding my place. I am Hispanic but I do not speak Spanish nor do I relate to a lot of Hispanic cultural experiences. I am Black but am still lighter skinned, therefore, struggle with claiming solidarity with the community as I recognize my privilege. I am part Cherokee but legally cannot claim this identity if I do not belong to a tribe. But, this does not erase the memory of my father handing me a book about Cherokee Natives as a girl, saying these are your people. As a child, strangers would walk up to me and grab my hair, asking me what I am or where are I am from? When they did not get the answer they wanted, they would follow with: okay, where are your parents from? Eventually, I learned to not take offense and simply explain my racial and ethnic background. In the United States, our identity is thrown in our face from day one. It can foster a sense of belonging for some but isolate others. Growing up, I definitely wish someone had been there to provide room to constructively explore my identity earlier, and that I had been exposed to more stories of people like me. The United States is so Eurocentric and gendered, minorities struggle to find representations of our people in its school systems, history books, the media, the government, and so forth. Even though I do not identify as Asian American, I understand the importance of establishing your identity and finding that sense of belonging and pride in who you are.
Here are a few fun facts about me