Hispanic student spotlight: Michael Torres

Michael Torres shares his experience as a student of Hispanic heritage at UVU, coming to the US from Columbia. Photo courtesy of Michael Torres.

Michael Torres, a sophomore studying communications, is a student of Colombian heritage. When he’s not on campus, Torres is on the basketball court with his friends or laughing with his family. 

Although he was born and raised in the United States, Torres’ parents immigrated from Colombia to the US in the mid 90’s. At this point in Colombian history, the country was under a period of severe political unrest and violence due to the rise in influence of drug cartels throughout the decades before, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council. This is when Torres’ parent’s made one of the hardest sacrifices: they left their home and family in Colombia and headed to the US in hopes of a safer life for their children and future children. 

Torres emphasized the magnitude of his parent’s sacrifice. In Colombia, his father had been pursuing a degree and had been in the workforce. After arrival, he found out his college credits and work experience were invalid. In order to support his family at the time, he found a job at a local pizza place. 

Growing up in Utah, Torres said he hasn’t been explicitly treated differently because of his heritage, but he expressed frustration with the ignorance that some people have concerning Hispanic heritage. “I personally haven’t dealt with anyone treating me differently because of my race or because of the color of my skin … but it is annoying when people are talking about Spanish speakers, they immediately assume Mexican,” said Torres. “There’s so much variety, we have a whole continent of people that speak different Spanish. There are all these different accents, the Argentinians have their own accent, the Colombians have their own accidents, Chileans, all these different people, they have their own stories.” 

In his lifetime, Torres has seen the damage that comes from stereotypes and ignorance. “In high school, I was walking around the track during class with one of my friends who is half-Guatemalan and half-Dominican. The soccer coach asked us ‘Why aren’t you guys running, aren’t you guys soccer players?’ Soccer isn’t even my sport, I play basketball. That was pretty messed up. If you’re a teacher, why are you making these jokes if you’re a professional?”  Torres said, “I know I’m Latino, but he shouldn’t assume I’m a soccer player. It’s pretty messed up to those who worked hard to get here, those who sacrificed their whole life to get here, even if it is a joke, you shouldn’t be making those kinds of comments.” 

Each Hispanic country has a unique history and culture from the others, including Colombia. Torres spoke in awe of the colors of the country, about how unique the people and the experience is there. “Colombia is a very, very beautiful place, they are very happy with what they have, they’re very joyful people. Right now Colombia is very corrupt, but the people still manage to find joy in things,” said Torres. 

As a transfer student, this is Torres’ first year at UVU, but he expressed that he sees unity and happiness here. “I’m still pretty new, but what I’ve seen is there’s a lot of unity here.” Torres said from what he’s seen, UVU does their best at including people from all walks of life. “I walk by the Multicultural Center and there’s always a ton of people there … and they’re always smiling. I just think that UVU is a perfect place for everyone. No matter who you are, there’s gonna be a place for you there,” said Torres. 

“One thing I would like for people to understand is if you see somebody that looks like they speak Spanish, and looks Hispanic, don’t assume: ask where they come from. Instead of jumping into stereotypes, just ask them specifically … Where are you from? Find out what makes them them without assuming what makes them them,” Torres stressed. “Be kind to everyone, not just because it’s Hispanic Heritage month: you gotta be nice to those who are different from you. That’s what makes the United States so amazing, that’s what makes UVU, UVU.” 

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