Culture is important to Alytse Cornejo Plotts. It helps define who she is and who she wants to become.

Alytse was born in the United States, as was her mother. Her grandmother on her mother’s side emigrated from Mexico. Her father is half Guatemalan and half Salvadoran and came here from Guatemala. Alytse’s heritage stretches across Latin America, and she strives to understand each part of her bloodline.

“It’s very important to know my history and where we came from,” Alytse says. “I feel motivated to help people understand other cultures more and to teach them what my culture is actually like, instead of what they see on TV.”

Alytse loves her Latina heritage. She loves the holidays and traditions, the language and the food. She loves how much her Mexican culture values family. But she has been to Latin America only once, as a young child. So after she graduates from Siuslaw High School in Florence this spring, she plans to live in Mexico for a year. She’ll work as a nanny or volunteer at a school while taking Spanish classes.

“I’m planning to take a gap year and travel to Mexico because we have tons of family down there,” Alytse says. “I really want to be submerged into my own culture that I don’t even really know.”

Alytse grew up speaking Spanish with her mother, but didn’t learn to read or write the language until she got to high school. Proper grammar is a challenge, so despite her spoken fluency, she’s now enrolled in Spanish III.

“I want to be a high school Spanish teacher one day,” Alytse says. “School challenges me to improve my Spanish grammar and makes me feel prepared for life after high school. You know, the ‘real world.’”

Once Alytse returns from Mexico, she plans to apply to Arizona State University to earn a teaching degree.

“I think taking a gap year will add a little more perspective to my life,” she says. “Being able to experience new things with culture and language and traveling on my own will help prepare me for what I want to do next.”