Hispanic and Proud Spotlight: Ms. Peña

Photo courtesy Ms. Vanessa Peña

This “Hispanic and Proud” spotlight is Ms. Vanessa Peña! Ms. Peña was born in Fort Lauderdale as a first generation Salvadoran-American. Her parents moved to the United States in the 1980’s to flee the Salvadoran civil war that lasted from 1979 to 1992. 

Despite being born here, she struggled with the language barrier, as many first-generation children do. 

“I remember starting kindergarten and only speaking Spanish. That was tough, but I had bilingual teachers that helped me learn quickly,” said Ms. Peña.

Because many Hispanic parents push the continuation of their language at home, learning English happens at school, for many kids. 

“I still have moments where I’m teaching English and my brain thinks in Spanish, but I’m grateful to have both languages and cultures,” added Ms. Peña.

After receiving the help she needed in school at a young age, she grew to learn the importance of having role models who are in similar circumstances or come from the same background. Not only is representation necessary, but it also helps empower new generations. 

“It’s powerful, especially at a younger age, to see someone who looks like you accomplish things that you’re striving for too,” stated Ms. Peña. “Whether you realize it or not, I think it gives you a mental push and confidence.”

Aside from reading, she also teaches her students testing skills and tips on how to succeed after high school. We continue to be grateful for our Hispanic teachers and everything they do for Fort Lauderdale High School and our community.

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