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For Edith Olivera-Bautista ’23, Hispanic heritage helps bridge gaps

Edith Olivera-Bautista ’23 makes paracord bracelets for the troops during a Heller Service Corps event in 2021.

Last updated October 13, 2022

By Jerry Salley ’90

When Edith Olivera-Bautista ’23 thinks about her experience as a Latinx student at a predominantly white school, she remembers a quote from “Selena,” the biopic about the legendary Tejano singer.

“We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time,” said Selena’s father, played by Edward James Olmos, in the film. “It’s exhausting!”

“I feel like there’s this black and white, but I’m in the gray, because I can’t be both,” Olivera-Bautista said, whose parents migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, one year before she was born. “I’m a mixture of two identities.”

The key is “accepting that you are different, and you are unique,” she said. “You use both your cultures to open the path and bridge the gap between two communities that sometimes clash.”

She felt that clash early on, as a daughter of immigrants growing up in the Berea area of Greenville, South Carolina.

“It starts with the constant fear of being separated from a family, the constant fear of police officials,” she said. “I had to mature at a very, very young age. I had to take care of my siblings. It has taught me a lot of things like resilience, courage, having a hard work ethic and dreaming. I feel that going into college having that maturity already instilled in me is what got me so far.”

A first-generation student majoring in Spanish and minoring in Latin American and Latinx studies, Olivera-Bautista has served as president of the Student Diversity Council, director of diversity and inclusion for the Heller Service Corps and past president of the Hispanic Outreach and Latinx Awareness (HOLA) organization. She has also worked with Mosaic, a student organization working to recruit more diverse prospective students, and was a fellow in the Shucker Center for Leadership Development.

During Fall Break, a tour Olivera-Bautista helped organize with the Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection took students through several sites in Georgia to learn about immigration and social justice issues.

For the senior, Hispanic Heritage Month is a chance for the Furman community to reflect on how far it’s come – and the work that still lies ahead.

“Furman is trying to diversify the community – we see it in the enrollment stats, and we see it in Joseph Vaughn Plaza. But I do feel like there’s things we can do better,” she said – exploring more inclusive language and teaching students about implicit bias and conflict resolution, for example.

Upon graduating, Olivera-Bautista, who worked as a student athletic trainer, plans to enter a physical therapy program after a stint in the National Guard. Her family will never be far from her thoughts.

“My parents would always tell me that education is the key to being successful, and that everything that they did was for me,” she said. “And to be here today is a privilege. I have the privilege to do anything that my heart desires. I am the voice for my grandparents and parents. I am their sacrifice.”

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