She and her sisters had grown up in some of the most marginalized neighborhoods in Los Angeles, struggling against failing schools, crime, racism, and poverty.
Vianney had come to Mexico City expecting to embrace her past and to be embraced as a long-lost daughter.
“She’s beautiful,” Vianney said, and we started chatting.
Vianney’s English is quintessential California: lots of “likes” and drawn out “yeahs” and “killed its,” with big vowels and sentences that curl at their ends into question-like realizations. Her wavy black hair is often corralled in a low ponytail, and her features are chiseled: fine cheekbones, fine collarbones, delicately contoured fingers.
At Chico, Vianney was one of only two Hispanic students in her seven-story dorm.She’d struggled to go to university, but was tyrannized by her father-in-law. A., because his seasonal work wasn’t enough to support them and it was hard to imagine their daughters getting ahead in the vice-grip of Mexican machismo. “Even though we were poor in Los Angeles, they had food in the fridge,” she said. “My mom set me up to be the one to understand things,” she said.She has carried this weight her whole life; it hung from our conversations like an anchor. Her father had a drinking problem and would regularly come home and beat his wife and children.For Vianney and the other seven million second-generation Hispanics in the U.S., most of them Mexican Americans, this quest to define identity and establish belonging has significant ramifications.Her mother enrolled her at the Harmony Project, an L. non-profit that offers students from low-income communities musical instruments, classes, community support, and field trips to cultural events. When she turned 15, at the urging of her music teacher, she applied to the elite Music Academy at the Colburn School in downtown L. To her shock, she was accepted with a 50 percent scholarship.Soon she was competing at summer camps across the country.As a Pew Research Center demographic survey put it, “The kinds of adults these young Latinos become will help shape the kind of society America becomes in the 21st century.”What these young Latinos become will be determined not only by their own struggles and achievements, but also by the willingness of many Americans to rethink their fundamental conceptions of Americanness, to recognize the dangerous fiction of an essential, unchanging America defined solely by white culture.Vianney was born at the UCLA Medical Center approximately 10 months after her family arrived in L.The Music Academy at Colburn is a highly competitive pre-college program, and Vianney said most of the top musicians there were white. She immediately understood how different her experience had been from theirs.“I was taking Honors Literature and I struggled,” she told me. In private school they teach other stuff, because these kids walked into Honors Lit and they killed it.”She started reading the newspaper every day, studying all the vocabulary she didn’t know.