Name: Cinthia Ibarra
Hometown: Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Major: Criminology with a minor in Law and Society
Activities: Chair of External Affairs for the Latinx Coalition, Mujeres Empoderadas, Secretary of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán), Chair of Community Outreach for Cipactli Latinx Senior Society, Spinx Senior Society, and previous Chair of Programming for the Latinx Ivy League Conference
34th Street: How do you think where you’ve grown up has impacted you as a person?
Cinthia Ibarra: I was born in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, and I came to the United States when I was 4 years old. When I was in Mexico I would be a very bubbly outgoing little girl, super curious about the world. And when I came to the United States I didn't know the language and that really impacted me as a person. It made me more shy, more introverted, and I didn't necessarily know how to make friends in a country where I didn’t speak the language. I just focused on the long term because that's what my parents told me that I was here to do: to do well in school because they brought me here for a better life and a better future. At least in school I wasn’t the same bubbly girl that I was back at home in Mexico. It was completely different from when I was in my house with my family. Basically [I went] from a country where I knew everybody and I felt like super at home, and [went] to a different country and then [settled] in Mount Vernon where there were not a lot of Latinos at the time. I remember coming home to my mom and she would tell me about her day. It was difficult for me, but it was even more difficult from my mom, because she didn't really have family here. But you know there are sacrifices that have to be made, and that was one of them.
Street: Why did you decide to come to Penn?
CI: This actually dates back to a long, long time before people start actually looking at colleges. I was in eighth grade and we had a career fair, and we had an FBI agent come in and tell us about their job. I was super fascinated, and I was like, 'I want to work in the FBI.' I asked the agents what they would recommend that I study in college in order to have a better chance to join. They suggested a couple majors, but the one that stood out to me was criminology. I was super interested, so I went online, and at the moment the only college I knew of was Harvard. And I knew it was in the Ivy League so I searched 'Ivy League criminology majors' and out of all of [the Ivies], the only one that had a criminology major was Penn. I got invited to Penn to attend the Penn Early Exploration program. As soon as I set foot on campus I fell in love. I don't know what it was about Penn, but something resonated with me. And then at some of the events they held there were students who spoke to us about their experiences. I talked to a lot of first-generation, low-income students, and I talked to a lot of Latinx students. There was this particular girl, I don't remember her name, but I do remember what she told me: 'At that point in my life, I didn't know if I could go to college, because I have DACA. My family could not afford to pay for an education at Penn, and it was out of the question for me to take out loans,' but she actually told me that she was undocumented and Penn had been able to offer her financial aid. And that completely changed my outlook—I could go to Penn.
Street: It’s clear from your activities that you have definitely become a leader in the Latinx community at Penn. How did you first decide to get involved?
CI: My freshman year I was not involved with the Latinx community at all. I was deeply intimidated because I felt that everyone knew each other and I was like 'I'm the outsider, no one is going to want to talk to me.' In the beginning of my sophomore year I was starting to realize which friends were reciprocating the amount of effort I put into them. In order for me to be a happier person I was going to need to start looking for relationships that helped me grow into a better person. My first interaction with the Latinx groups was Mujeres Empoderadas and that was during my freshman year during the election when Trump won. I was in a very vulnerable place. When it was announced that Trump won I was like, 'That's it, I'm not going to be able to finish my education here—I'm going to have to go back to Mexico.' At that moment there were two girls that were in my class and they had invited me to this Mujeres Empoderadas gathering. It was a super welcoming space, and I felt the love in the room. We weren't trying to pretend to be okay. We were just trying to be our vulnerable selves which is something that was super necessary to me, especially coming from an all girls school. My sophomore year, I knew more people, and I should get more involved.
Street: What have you been able to accomplish in these positions?
CI: I wanted to create a space where people feel welcome, and that’s not to say that the Latinx community is mean, or doesn’t welcome people. I think that sometimes as a freshman I think you need that little extra push. I always do things imagining what it would be like for myself to relive that experience. I try to create programming, talk to people, and just make them feel welcome as much as I can, because even if I can make one person's experience a little bit better than mine, that's doing a lot already and then you can keep that going and build a chain. The positions I had were just manifestations of the passion I had to make a difference. One thing that makes me really happy is the fact that as I’ve grown, the people in that group have grown as well. I feel like they’ve started to find their voice at Mujeres Empoderadas. I remember a couple of freshman who were super shy and reminded me of myself, and now hearing them talk so passionately about things that they love, their interests, their goals, and having that conviction to go out and do things and get involved has made the experience I’ve had on these committees truly worth it.
Street: There has been a lot of anti–Latinx rhetoric and policies in the global context. How does the Latinx community at Penn address the impact these might have on students?
CI: I think for the most part, we just try to be there for each other. It is such a tough subject to talk about, and Penn is already stressful as it is. For me personally, when I hear the news it makes me angry, and I think that anger fuels my passion to continue to work hard, and to follow my dreams, but not everyone has that reaction, which is completely okay. We're all different people and because of that, it’s very difficult to have something that is beneficial for the entire community. Just being here for each other and being supportive of each other is most important. Whether it's a shoulder to lean on, or going out and advocating, or protesting, as long as you have a support system you will be able to find a way to heal.
Street: What are you hoping to do post–graduation?
CI: I no longer plan on working in the FBI. I realize that I really love criminology, though. I love the fact that it's very intersectional. I've always focused on the Latinx experience, and how systems affect this community. Although I don't plan on working in the FBI, I plan on becoming a lawyer and just using the knowledge that I bring, as well as my experiences living in the community. I think that'll help me truly effect change. I'm very interested in immigration law, criminal law, and civil rights law.
Street: What is your favorite building on campus?
CI: Arch, basically La Casa.
Street: One item in your closet you couldn't live without?
CI: Oooh, my MEChA hoodie. It's so comfy.
Street: Favorite book?
CI: I'll just say the book that I'm currently reading, which is Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn...
CI: Those who walk on Locust Walk and those who don’t.
Street: Favorite song?
"Vivir Mi Vida" by Marc Anthony.
Street: Are you a dog person or a cat person?
CI: Dog person.
Street: Do you have a dog?
CI: No I don’t, but I’ve been getting puppy fever.