Who are you Tina?
The first thing that’s really important about me is that I have an identical twin. I also have a brother who is ten years older than me because my parents really suck at planning. My parents are immigrants from Puerto Rico and they came to the U.S. in their 20s. I grew up in Wisconsin and then moved to Pennsylvania when I was 14.
Also, my mom has a disability, and that’s a huge part of my life. She is paraplegic so she can’t use her legs at all. Her condition is what made me really interested in disabilities.
How did you get involved with The Agape Center?
My senior year of high school I had way too few credits. My only options were to either work for the school or take Computer Programming 2. I hate programming, so I didn’t take that. They told me I could either work at the elementary school or high school and I chose to work with the older kids so I could do more teaching.
Then when I was talking about coming to Messiah, my mentor helped me find Paxton Ministries through the Agape Center, specifically the Best Buddies program—Messiah students are partnered with adults with mental handicaps to form relationships. I volunteered with them for a year and then I decided I wanted to be a leader.
Why did you pick biochemistry?
A lot of us chem and biochem majors say, “I’m only a chem major because I can’t do anything else.” I like the job freedom it provides, I can do whatever I want with it pretty much. But it can be hard because most of the time women are discouraged from hard science.
This is different from Messiah though because a lot of the chem department is women. In high school I remember getting stopped in the hallway by my teacher and he said, “Why don’t you just be a bio major? Are you in chemistry because you like chemistry, or are you just doing it to look good?” You get that a lot being a woman in science, especially being a Hispanic woman. It’s annoying, and I feel like I get it even more because of the stereotype that Hispanic people are lazy.
What was the most significant moment since you have been at Messiah?
Last year I had a student mentor and I had this moment where I said, “I wish I could be more like you,” because he always stands up for himself and is super passionate about things. I never stood up for myself. Then he told me, “I always trust in God and I stay away from things that seem good because I know God has something that’s best for me.” That shook my actual world. I don’t think he even knows what that meant to me.
What is your greatest struggle right now?
Not getting to sleep because I’m in three science classes with labs. It takes a lot out of me, but I like the feeling of really having worked to get what I get. I like the challenge to succeed.
What has changed since high school?
At my high school people were often closed-minded. I remember telling someone I was Hispanic and they were like “Oh, but you’re smart.” I can’t hide the fact that I’m not white or that my last name is Perez, but it seemed like people were trying to shove that part of me away from me. It was an identity crisis because I felt like I needed to fit in. Here at Messiah, they don’t only serve American food and there’s clubs and dances for different cultures. I don’t feel like I have to fit in.
Give me a piece of advice.
Stand up for yourself and be happy. It’s not only going to affect you, but everyone around you. Being a negative presence in other people’s lives or stretching yourself too thin to make others happy is not going to make you or others the happiest. Be a whole person and give that to other people.