As a child growing up in Venezuela, Gabriela Medina was no stranger to social unrest. Medina, a freshman communication studies major, was born in 1995. A few years after, Venezuela entered a period of political turmoil. The president at the time, Hugo Chavez, was creating a new constitution for the state, which led to protests, many of which were violent, according to Time magazine.
“You couldn’t stop at a street light at night because you were scared someone would jump your car or try to kidnap you,” Medina said.
Every year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the U.S. celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month. Medina said this is an important time for her to remember the country from which she came.
“I think it’s really important for us as Latinos and Hispanics to get together every once in a while,” Medina said. “I think it’s important to remind us where we came from. It’s all about going back to your roots at certain points in your life.”
Daniel Zambrano, a freshman visual and media arts major, traveled from Mexico to the United States solely for an Emerson education. Zambrano said he has had a difficult time acclimating to American culture, and is relieved to know others here understand. He said he feels that Americans overthink everything, whereas Mexicans live more in-the-moment and that seemingly minor things like this confuse him.
“I think the most interesting part of Latino culture and Hispanic culture is probably the small differences,” said Zambrano. “We hug and kiss every time we say ‘hello.’ I think that it’s the small things that make you notice.”
Medina said she came to the United States from Venezuela when she was four years old with her mom and her younger sister. They found a new home in Miami, Fla.
“[My mom] decided she wanted us to have a better chance to [get] a higher education,” Medina said, “My dad stayed behind and continued to work there and then would occasionally come and visit us in Miami. She wanted to separate us from the political situation going on in Venezuela.”
Medina and her family are just some of the approximately 20 million Hispanic immigrants living in the United States, according to The Migration Policy Institute. To gain entry to the United States, Medina said her mother had to acquire a student visa and enroll in English classes at a community college in the city. Because of her studies, her mother did not have a full-time job. Medina said it took around four years for a job in Miami to open up for her father.
“You come from having a house, a family, everything, a school, and you have to start over brand-new,” she said. “And your mom doesn’t have a job so you don’t have the same standard of living. My parents literally built from the bottom-up everything we have now.”
Medina herself is not a U.S. citizen, and to change her status, she would have to undergo an extensive and lengthy process. She would have to do this herself, because sat 19 years old, she is considered an adult. Medina accredits the success of her life to her Hispanic parents, whom she is more than grateful for.
“Emerson is not just for me to get an education but for me to give my parents something to be proud of,” she said. “I want my parents to know that coming to the U.S. and giving me an education was worth while.”
Medina and Zambrano are both a part of Emerson’s own Hispanic and Latin American group, Amigos, which is hosting events this month to allow our community to engage in the festivities. Some events coming up are a stand-up comedy show featuring Nick Guerra on Thursday, Sept. 18, the “A Bailar! Dance With Us” event on Tuesday, Sept. 23, a screening of the film Documented on Tuesday, Sept. 30, and the Inaugural Latino Summit on Wednesday, Oct. 22.
“The ‘melting pot’ is true,” Zambrano said, “It’s not some invention or idea. [The United States] definitely is the only country in the world where you could find Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, Caucasians all living together trying to make their world better.”