Meet Lissette Orellana

Lissette Orellana works as a guide in the visitor services department for the Lynn Museum in Massachusetts. A young teen going to school and working at the museum part time, we spoke over video chat on life as a budding entrepreneur, what brought her to Lynn Museum, and being a DACA student.

Growing up in the suburbs just outside of Washington, D.C., I was absolutely certain that after high school I would go to college. The question as to what I would do there and where my path would lead me was an entirely different monster. But my parents, immigrants who had come to Virginia in the late 80s, knew that whatever that path, it had to be found through a college education by any means necessary.

I have spoken a lot on the lack of privilege many communities of color face when striving to lift ourselves to better places in life, but sometimes there are instances when small slices of privilege help us in ways we should be more aware of. That is, after all, how we can be better advocates for intersectionality among our peers. For me, that privilege shows itself in the form of citizenship. As a U.S. citizen, while I had many worries as a brown girl, being stripped of the opportunity to go to college before I even got the chance to apply was not one of them.

This past summer, there were fears of the dismantling of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration policy meant to help those who came to this country as minors be eligible for work, school, and live in this country without threat of deportation for a period of time. Because my community was hurting I was even more determined to grow the ALIM blog into a website for a wider scope on who the Latinx community is in the context of museums.

I did a simple Google search on a number of word combinations. I wanted to find a Latinx in museums. This is harder than you would think when you start from scratch and don’t use your list of networks. You can be assured that you can type in 'museum professional' and more often than not you will find a White demographic. I wanted to find a Latinx in museums not located in a major art capitol, so this means excluding Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and D.C.

After scouring the net for awhile I came across a small mention of a young Latina student in a local paper. The article was about DACA and profiled this student and how she has dealt with the current situation she is faced with. But one small thing caught my eye and I knew I had to contact her: she worked in visitor services at a small museum in her hometown, called Lynn Museum. I internet stalked her (sorry, not sorry) and reached out because I wanted to learn more about her and to ask why she chose to work in a museum.  

 Lissette Orellana is a 19 year old student at North Shore Community College where she has one more semester left before she’s finished. She lives in the fairly large city of Lynn, Massachusetts, the largest city in Essex County with a population of around 90,000. As of 2016, the Latinx community in Lynn, Massachusetts is the second largest, at 32% of the population.

Lissette went to a vocational high school where the majority of the students were Latinx and where she learned how to do graphic design. This high school, however, is apparently known as, "a school where the kids don’t go to college." Because of its more vocational focus, the assumptions are made but go unfazed because of the skills learned. And its in this high school, in a photoshop class, where Lissette realized she would like to pursue a major in business administration, "If DACA is left alone, I would like to go to the state university to finish my bachelor’s degree." So much for assumptions, huh?

Yes, as mentioned in the beginning, Lissette is a DACA student. She was only 8 years old when she arrived and speaking on it to her local paper brought an onslaught of comments about both her and her mother needing to go back home. The usual racist rhetoric. But Lissette doesn't seem bothered and has no regrets about opening up about her status, "I wanted to show them that we are working students, we do everything for our local community." Everything about her from our conversation exudes a quiet confidence that I wish I had at her age. I know that had it been me, I might not have been as brave or even as understanding as she describes that she doesn't feel anger, just bad for those who think the way they do about a community they don't understand.

When she came to work for the Lynn Museum, they didn't know anything about DACA but did their research and came to be incredibly supportive of Lissette, especially in this political climate. Lynn Museum has a small staff and has become like family to her. Currently working part time, Lissette describes her job as, "...a dream come true because when I was little I always wanted to work in a museum...I’m a major history geek so I’ve been in love with the older days of my city.”

The Lynn Museum was looking for someone with graphic design experience and the skills she learned in high school gave her the very experience the museum was looking for and so she was brought it as an intern while in high school. Soon after, she was hired part time in their visitor services department and has been there for a little over a year now. Being bilingual has helped expand her role beyond a typical guide as an educator of sorts to not only translate for families who don't know English but to help explain the mission of the museum and help them understand the history of their city. Different audiences require different kinds of attention and being able to have a Latina in the museum has certainly built a confidence with the Latinx visitors who have come in, who feel safe to visit and ask questions. 

When I asked her what she hopes to achieve with a degree in business administration, she says she wants to be an entrepreneur. Part of me wants to convince her to stay in museums but I ask where that may lead her, "Would like to work at Mattel, or if not, have my own comic book store." Well, the creative world will be lucky to have her.   


Karen VidángosComment