The sun shines on junior Alyssa Medina, who sits on a blanket on the green lawn of the Seaside Residence Hall courtyard, next to her clay pot and mugs. Medina said she enjoys making café de olla, a sweet Mexican coffee, for herself and her friends. Photos by Lucian Himes
During Housing and Residence Life student leadership training in August 2021, then-sophomore Alyssa Medina invited fellow resident advisers to her suite to share a small piece of home with her new friends — café de olla, a sweet Mexican coffee, prepared in a traditional clay pot.
As many people close to her know, Medina’s Mexican and Native American heritage, along with her Los Angeles upbringing, are integral parts of her identity.
Medina said her family, especially her grandparents — who immigrated from Mexico — and her dad instilled a sense of cultural pride within her that helped her navigate situations where her identity was in the minority.
“There was some embarrassment and shame as I started to get older and go into other organizations, and [they’d ask] ‘Why do you eat this?’ ‘Why do you do this?’ ‘Why do you speak in this way?’ or we have an accent,” Medina said. “And my dad really showed me that there is no embarrassment in that, and there’s so much strength and pride in my culture that that strength is with me wherever I go.”
Medina is a junior double-majoring in History and Political Science and minoring in Hispanic Studies. She also serves in many roles, including resident advisor, Posse Foundation scholar, Model United Nations delegate, Latinx Student Alliance member, Phi Alpha Theta History student and California Association of Youth Courts board member. Medina said she brings her family, culture and passion for inclusivity into every space she enters.
When Medina’s dad asked her how much she sees herself in the books she reads, she said she doesn’t feel represented in her studies and realized she could help ensure her culture and other minorities are included in the classroom.
In a paper for one of her History classes, for instance, Medina wrote about the 1960s Chicano Movement, also referred to as El Movimiento, which advocated for the social and political empowerment of Mexican Americans. Medina’s grandparents were part of this movement.
Cari Myers, Religion professor and Posse mentor, said Medina is a “truth-teller” and an advocate.
“She’s really good at having hard conversations with people because she’s compassionate, she’s really compassionate,” Myers said. “But she is not afraid to stand up for herself, and she’s not afraid to speak for groups of people who aren’t represented, and she can explain why they need to be represented and what they bring to the table.”
Junior Lidia Qaladh, Medina’s friend, said Medina is someone who is always composed. Despite appearing calm on the surface, Medina said she feels pressure to work even harder to combat assumptions people might place on her as a woman of color studying History and Political Science.
“I have to practice the way I speak a lot more and be aware of how I come off and what I look like,” Medina said. “Like, am I engaging in these stereotypes placed on me without knowing it?”
Medina said despite some self-doubt and struggles, she has found a community of people at Pepperdine who support her and who she is.
Qaladh said she met Medina during their last round of interviews for the Posse scholarship in November 2019, and their friendship has grown since then.
“She is one of the most generous people I know,” Qaladh said. “Because of how she was raised and the lessons she learned from her grandparents, she’s always willing to help, she always gives without expecting anything in return. I’ve never met anyone as selfless as her, and she’s resilient like no other.”
At the end of each day, Medina said she always looks at a quote she wrote on the board in her room: “Remember your why.” For Medina, her “why” — what inspires her to keep going — is her family.
“I go home and share things with them [my siblings], and they look at me like I’ve done the greatest thing ever in the world,” Medina said. “I’m like, ‘I just wrote a paper,’ and they’re like, ‘That’s so awesome, how do you do that?’ And so I just, I carry them with me, and they are my biggest reason why.”
Follow Currents Magazine on Twitter: @PeppCurrents and Instagram: @currentsmagazine
Contact Emily Shaw by email: firstname.lastname@example.org