As a part of the Center for Global and Intercultural Engagement’s global spotlight on Mexico, a panel of Latino immigrants met to discuss their unique challenges.
“It was the best choice I have ever made,” Paola Rondon, an immigrant from Venezuela, said. “It was a hard choice. It was an expensive choice, but I don’t regret it.”
Some of the topics the panelists covered were high tuition costs, work privileges, identity and their personal experiences at UVU.
“The goal of the panel was to give a voice to the challenges and opportunities unique to immigrant students,” Bryan Waite, the Center for Global and Intercultural Engagement’s program director, said.
A hot topic was the cost of tuition for international students and their hindered abilities to pay for it.
“It’s something like three times as much as what someone from Utah pays,” Rondon said. “You can’t work off campus until you’ve gone here for two semesters and the off campus job needs to be associated with your major. So you have to work on campus.”
With the higher tuition, close to $8,000 a semester, and limited work opportunities; many international students find university life stressful. This is further complicated if the international student is undocumented.
In Utah it is legal for an undocumented student who has graduated from a high school in the state to enroll in a Utah university. Even with this legal loophole, undocumented students pay international tuition and cannot qualify for any financial aid.
A question about identity was posed to the panelists, how they maintain theirs and how they feel they fit in here.
“You just have to remember who you really are,” Rondon said. “It’s easy to pretend to be something you’re not to try and fit in better, but you shouldn’t. I try to [help] people say my name correctly. It’s a simple thing, but it matters.”
Many of the audience members were international students as well. The discussion of identity struck a cord with Mexican-born, American-raised Jorge Trujillo.
“Sometimes I feel more American, because I was raised here, I was a teenager here,” Trujillo said. “Other times I feel more Mexican and sometimes I don’t feel like I really fit in either category. I think it’s because I was in America when I was a teenager, that’s when you develop a sense of who you are.”
The panel spoke to how integration into American culture can be difficult for an international student, especially if they come from a Latino or Hispanic culture, which holds negative stereotypes for many Americans.
“A big problem is that everyone thinks we’re all from Mexico,” Rondon said. “Just because I have black hair and speak Spanish does not mean that I am Mexican. I have a lot of respect for Mexico and Mexicans, they seem like great people with a great culture, but I am not a Mexican. Don’t ever try breaking the ice with ‘are you from Mexico?’ It’s never a good idea.”
The panel consisted of four students, two from Mexico, two from Venezuela.
“When someone asks if you’re from Mexico and you say ‘no’ there is a switch in attitude, which I think is wrong,” Jesler Molina, a Venezuelan immigrant from the panel, said.
The panel spoke to unfair stereotypes and their experience when they first came to UVU.
“When I first got here I was ready to leave,” Molina said, “and I had good reason. But when I go into my major I decided to dedicate myself. I am a political science major and I co-founded the Model UN. I started to really love it here… Because I am in the political science department people actually appreciate that I’m here, they like that I can give different perspectives on politics.”
An audience member whose parents were Polish immigrants asked if they felt that they were more or less accepted by Utahans because of the prominent LDS culture being so familiar with internationals.
“Every once in a while I’ll meet someone who served their mission in Venezuela or they went Spanish-speaking, and that’s great,” Rondon said. “We’ll compare words and talk about places and culture. LDS people are good about the international thing, but even so, I’m a Catholic and so I’ve been rejected for that.”
The panelists that answered about their experience at UVU had positive things to say.
“I’ve had great teachers,” Rondon said. “It’s been a really great experience. And I’ve learned a lot about the world from working with other international students. I’ve learned to understand Arabic. I can’t speak it, but I now understand it. I think that’s amazing, I’ve learned not only English, but Arabic.”
In parting each panelist gave a piece of advice to the Americans they encounter.
“Remember that everyone has their own story,” Janeth Paredes, a Mexican who immigrated to the US at the age of 10. “Everyone has their own experience.”
Molina and Rondon spoke to the need for greater tolerance of different cultures, reminding Americans that the world continues past American and Mexican borders. They asked that everyone’s culture be respected along with American culture.
“Come to more things like this,” David Garcia, a panelist from Mexico, said. “Come and listen.”