In a world full of divisiveness, Salma Anguiano feels like a breath of fresh air — and hope.
“We all function differently in society because we all have different backgrounds and identities, and we approach things with different lenses,” said the 20-year-old Hermiston High School graduate. “We need to step aside from our biases and look at things differently, through different lenses, and really be open enough to listen to others’ perspectives. I hope I can be that type of person who can build different understandings among different types of communities.”
Anguiano, a junior at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, wrote about her experiences as an Hispanic woman in a predominantly white institution where many students come from wealthy backgrounds in an essay that won her a $3,000 Workers’ Memorial Scholarship from the Oregon Occupational Safety & Health division (OSHA). This is the third year in a row Anguiano has been awarded the competitive scholarship.
Anguiano qualified for the scholarship as the daughter of a worker injured on the job. Her father was severely injured in a vehicle crash in 2014 when the van he was riding in on his way to his job at a Boardman dairy ran a stop sign and rolled, ejecting him from the vehicle. He was left a quadriplegic.
At the time, Anguiano was just 14 and in the eighth grade, and her younger sister was just 6 months old. She served as a translator for her parents with medical staff, and cared for her baby sister, all the while going to school in Hermiston.
“It was a lot for me as a young person. I was 14 and didn’t want to be dealing with these types of problems,” she said. “I just wanted to be a normal teenager. I couldn’t do the things other kids my age were doing because I had family responsibilities. I think, while it was a difficult time, it helped me prepare more for real life, because in real life, things don’t always go as smoothly as you think they will go. It matured me at a really difficult age.”
OSHA looks for students who are resilient and want to pursue higher education goals when reviewing applicants for the Workers’ Memorial Scholarship. Anguiano is one of just seven students statewide to receive the honor, which was established in 1991 by the Oregon Legislature. Award recommendations are made by Oregon OSHA’s Safe Employment Education and Training Advisory Committee, an advisory group with members from business, organized labor, and government.
Oregon OSHA presents the awards annually to help in the post-secondary education of spouses or children of permanently and totally disabled or fatally injured workers.
“In the face of serious challenges, these students have shown a lot of heart and a lot of grit in staying focused on their educational pursuits,” said Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood. “These awards represent an opportunity for us to help them as they continue moving forward on their respective paths.”
Anguiano stands out to be sure.
At Hermiston High School, not only did Anguiano help her family, but she worked several part-time jobs while also advocating in Salem and Washington, D.C., for career-technical education funding as part of the Family Career & Community Leaders of America. She served as executive vice president and president for Oregon FCCLA, and was even a candidate for a national officer role her junior year.
She also helped start the Health Occupational Safety Association at HHS, which is a career-technical education organization focused on health careers.
Anguiano remained active as she entered college in 2018.
At Whitman, she is double-majoring in American government/politics and Chinese language & literature, and is on track to graduate in May 2022. Anguiano envisions a career of helping build “mutual understanding among different diverse communities.”
Now tri-lingual, Anguiano hopes to one day work in international affairs, which is why learning the Chinese language and culture was so appealing. She spent a summer abroad in Kunming, China, the capital of the Yunnan province. She then went back that winter to visit friends she had made. A semester abroad in Shanghai this coming school year was put on hold due to COVID-19, but is expected to be rescheduled for 2021.
Though Anguiano dreams of possibly running for Congress “in the distant future,” she would like to first teach English in China while pursuing a master’s degree in the country.
“I need a break from education in the U.S. and experience something new,” she said. “I really enjoy learning from people who have a different background from me. I learn, but I also challenge others. It would be nice to just try something new.”