North Tahoe senior works to buck stereotypes within Hispanic community
Special to the Sun
KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Karla Hernandez is determined to define her own future — one that involves completing college and pursuing a career — and not letting others do it for her.
As a Latina, Hernandez said society expects her to get derailed in pursuit of her life goals, which she has no intention of doing.
“Just because I am a Latina, people think I am going to get pregnant and run away with my boyfriend, but that’s not who I want to be,” the North Tahoe High School senior said in a recent interview. “I want to get out of that stereotype. I want to let people know that, yeah, I am a Latina, and I can get to my goal.”
Karla, who moved to the Lake Tahoe region from Mexico at age 9, will attend Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe this fall to study criminal justice.
Ultimately, the 18-year-old wants to become a probation officer to help others and provide them with a second chance — something she said everyone deserves.
Based in part on her character, leadership qualities and academic performance, Karla was selected by the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe as its 2016 Youth of the Year.
“I think it’s really powerful how aware she is,” said Mindy Carbajal, chief executive officer for the Boys and Girls Club, who has known Karla for years. “ … She knows who she is, and (what) she does not want to be. She (also) wants to be someone who doesn’t see those stereotypes in others.”
From shy to fearless
Since 1947, Youth of the Year has been Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s premier recognition program, celebrating the achievements of club teens and qualities they embody, according to the nonprofit organization.
When asked to describe Karla, Carbajal said: “She is fearless. She says what she wants to, she tries new things, and she’s just very open.”
This is a stark difference from how Carbajal remembers Karla when she first started attending the Boys and Girls Club every day after school as a young girl.
“I remember her being a very quiet little girl with big glasses,” Carbajal said. “She was super involved in our Power Hour program, which is our homework program. There’s all these other activities that she could do, but she loved being in there — working with the mentors and tutors in there, doing her homework, reading, and doing any extra little worksheet or anything like that to get the bonus points.”
When Karla started attending the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, she had recently moved from Tijuana, and everything was new to her.
“It was difficult because I didn’t know anything,” Karla recalled of the transition. “I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know anybody. I was just afraid of everything, pretty much.”
Yet, with the help from the club’s volunteers and staff members, Hernandez was able to break out of her shell.
“I remember my first day, I just sat in one of the chairs, and I was just looking at everybody having fun and doing all of this stuff,” Karla said, while sitting in the club’s facility at 8125 Steelhead Ave. in Kings Beach. “One of the staff (members) came over, and in Spanish she said, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Why don’t you go play?’ I was just like, ‘No, I’m OK.’ She was like, “No, we’re going to go (around),’ and she took me around.
“She was the one that pushed me that first day, and then, as the days kept on going, … they kept on pushing me, and I’m just getting comfortable with myself.”
‘She will be great’
These days, Karla keeps herself busy by applying herself in school, being involved in school sports (softball and snowboarding), and holding down an after-school job at Granlibakken Tahoe.
“She has been taught that the world does not owe her anything and that she needs to work for whatever it is that she desires, and so, she does,” said Laura Hartung-Roberts, Karla’s culinary arts teacher of two years. She … laughs openly with others, empathizes and listens, but yet she also has no fear in standing up for what she believes in or letting someone know that they are not acting respectfully. She has very little fear when it comes to doing the ‘right thing.’”
As for trying new or different things, Karla credits that trait to the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe.
“I feel like the thing that really got stuck in my head was, like, yeah things might be scary and everything, but what’s the worst thing that could happen?” she said. “You still give it a shot, and if it (doesn’t) work, then it didn’t work.
“ … There’s always going to be those obstacles in life, and you can always pass them.”
Yet, rather than succumbing to the stereotypes that can sometimes become self-fulfilling prophecies, Karla is fighting against them.
“‘No, dude, I’m not,’” Karla said, her response to when she started hearing she would become a teen mother. “I’m not just going to show you, but I’m going to show myself that is not going to happen to me.”
Now that she’s on the cusp of going to college with all the opportunities that brings, Karla couldn’t be happier.
“For the Boys and Girls Club, Karla is exactly the type of kid that we love out there representing us,” Carbajal said. “We’re just really proud of her and proud of all that she has accomplished, and looking forward to her future. We know she will be great.”