I was born on Jesus’s birthday and we speak Spanish at home

My name is Emilia Violeta Vicuña. My parents chose my name together. Emilia comes from my dad’s name. His name is Emelio because they took out the “o” and put a “a” to make it more feminine. They chose “Violeta” because the night my parents met, my dad came up to my mom and asked her to dance with her with a violet. Something cool about my name is that my last name is Vicuña- Vicuña, but just to be clear, my parents are not from the same family. I am 19 years old. My birthday is the December 24th also known as “Christmas Eve”. Although my birthday is the same day Jesus was born, we celebrate my life and at the same time pay tribute to the birth of Jesus with prayers giving him thanks for his life and for his sacrifice and for sharing his birthday with me. Being this age is something special. In the world we live in, we should feel blessed to be alive. I’ve always been the baby in the class which is very ironic because I’m a tall girl and that’s why my friends joke around with me. What they do not know is that being younger than is sort of an advantage, especially with my studies.

I am studying at SUNY Oneonta and I feel it is a great privilege. There are many people who cannot afford to go to college. I decided to study for a doctorates in occupational therapy. I want to help kids who have problems with physical mobility and can’t do things we do every day like hold a pencil or cut with scissors. What I like most about the career I’m pursuing is that I’m going to work with kids. Children and I tend to get along very well and have an instant connection so I feel happy to be able to work with those in need. It will be hard work but very rewarding.  

Here at the university I live on campus with three roommates. We have a suite at Matteson Hall. My roommates are named Linda, Georgina, and Erica. We get along super well. They are super organized and clean like me. My characteristics are as follows: I am a tall girl, I have brown, curly hair, brown eyes and tanned skin. I wear glasses and am known for always wearing large hoop earrings. I have long nails like my dad and high cheekbones like my mom. When I’m with my mom, people say I look like her and when I’m with my dad, people say I’m like him, but I really think I’m a mix of both! I am a very kind and funny person. Music is an aspect of my personality because I’m always singing, whistling and humming. I have a problem with my attitude sometimes. I’m also super honest, and sometimes that’s kind of troublesome. I am generous and very social like my mom. I’m very funny and loud like my dad. Finally, I’m super smart and studious. I speak English and Spanish. I learned English at school and at home because we speak English and sometimes Spanish. I learned Spanish because I wanted to speak with my family with more confidence and fluency so at the age of 14 I decided to take my Spanish classes seriously. I kept learning Spanish through music, TV shows, reading books and talking to my family.  

With great pride I can say that I have three cultures: American, Puerto Rican and Dominican. Although I have these cultures, I am not very connected to them. The Puerto Rican celebration as the Day of the Three Kings, we do not celebrate it and the Dominican celebration as the Day of Altagracia, we do not celebrate it either. In my family we only celebrate birthdays and some American holidays like Independence Day. That way I’m not connected, but I’m connected on the subject of food. I grew up with Puerto Rican culture because at home my grandmother and my mother cook typical Puerto Rican food such as arroz con gandules, pernil, pasteles and pastelillos. When I’m with my dad he cooks me typical food of the Dominican Republic like the tres golpes which is a dish of mangú, eggs, fried cheese and fried salami, or he cooks me “yaniqueques” which are like the arepas of Puerto Rico. We eat American food sometimes like pizza or pasta, but most of the time we eat Hispanic food. When I’m here in college I look for Hispanic food alternatives but there are none… I miss the food from home and especially from my mom. 

My mom was born in the U.S., but her parents were born in Puerto Rico and my grandmother still lives there. Puerto Rico is a super beautiful island. The houses are different tropical colors, the food is super fresh, the atmosphere is tropical, the beaches have clear blue water. The typical music of Puerto Rico is salsa. My favorite salsa group is called the “Gran Combo”. In Puerto Rico I have my grandmother’s brothers and their children. I’m not very close to them, but it’s the family I have there. My dad is from the Dominican Republic. This country has super “cool” places like El Salto de Jima or the Centro Colonial. There are many historical sculptures and a beautiful Catholic church. The food I like the most are the tres golpes and for dessert tres leches. The typical music of R.D. is bachata and Juan Luis Guerra is well known for his bachata and merengue songs. I have a big family on my dad’s side who live in the Dominican Republic. I have 6 cousins, 3 uncles, and 2 aunts. I love traveling more to the Dominican Republic instead of Puerto Rico because there are people my age in my Dominican family, but Puerto Rico feels like home and more familiar. Spanish is different in the two countries. In Puerto Rico more “Spanglish” is spoken and in the Dominican Republic it is spoken only in Spanish and that is the result of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States being a territory of this country. In Puerto Rico there are now many American people who live there and do business speaking English, it’s like the “new Florida” where people can retire. My dad doesn’t use code switching like my mom and I do. My dad sounds like a native Dominican when he talks and my mom sounds like a Puerto Rican, but not so much because people from Puerto Rico sound like they’re singing and my mom doesn’t talk that way. I speak English more fluently than Spanish. Every day I learn more phrases and words in Spanish and it is through Professor Montoya’s class. I have to speak Spanish more often so I get a lot of practice and I feel that I speak with more confidence now. Sometimes I feel very frustrated because I can’t communicate easily and it’s not that I don’t know the words, it’s that I’m afraid to say the words or phrases in a way that shouldn’t. I keep practicing and immersing myself in the language because I know the only way to learn is by making mistakes. Right now I’m working on speaking only Spanish and not using English phrases when I’m speaking it.  

I hadn’t had many opportunities to speak Spanish before coming to Oneonta, but I had to speak Spanish during family celebrations, which are very special to Hispanic culture. We love being with people like our friends and family where we can feel safe, loved and just enjoy each other’s company. In my family we have many celebrations and during these we speak both languages, but more English because not everyone speaks Spanish fluently. We always get together for birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We cook a lot of food that is made by my grandmother, my mom, and my aunt. My immediate family consists of my grandmother, my mother, my brother Roderigo, my aunt, my cousin Alba, my cousin Juan, his wife and their three children. We always need a lot of food, drinks and desserts. The most important celebration is my birthday, which is Christmas Eve. My grandmother, my mom and my aunt cook my favorite food which are ribs and macaroni and cheese, but of course that can’t be the only thing we eat so my grandmother makes the rice with pigeon peas, the salad, the beans and my aunt makes a potato or macaroni salad and of course the “coquito”. For the cake I always ask for tres leches and my dad brings it to me. Everyone arrives around 4pm, so we can eat and celebrate my birthdays together and then watch movies or dance to stay up until the early hours so we can open Christmas presents. Everyone opens their gifts one at a time and when we finish we all clean up and get ready to go home. 

Although my family is very close, we live far away and in different types of communities. I live with my mom in Dayton in New Jersey, here the community speaks predominantly English and different Indian languages. My dad lives in Kew Gardens in Queens which is multilingual. My aunt and her children live in Brentwood on Long Island where many people speak English and Spanish. My grandmother lives in Puerto Rico where Spanish is spoken. My brother Roderigo lives on Staten Island and my other siblings; James and Martín live in Florida where they speak English. Sometimes it’s hard to plan to do activities together because we have to think about distance, it’s always a mess. I don’t like being away from my family, but it really doesn’t matter where we are because we always talk on the phone and we’re always going to be family. I just moved to New Jersey. In my community most people are from India. It’s super calm. No one bothers us, they all stay in their places. I used to live on Staten Island and I loved it there but I really love where we live now because we have our own home. No one can kick us out of the house at all and I like that. I’m super proud that my mom was able to buy a house on her own. I have a friend, her name is Taylor and she is my neighbor. We met through our moms and we got along super well. In the summer we spent a lot of time together, once we went on a dinner cruise and went to the gym every day and we had many nights at my house watching a lot of Disney movies. I don’t miss the place so much, but I miss my mom and also “Target” to do my shopping. There is no one to speak Spanish in my community, only English and the different dialects of India, but that’s okay because when I need to talk about something secretly with my mom I can speak Spanish easily and no one is going to understand us. 

My community has changed, I am now studying psychology with a concentration in occupational therapy at the State University of New York, in a “city” called Oneonta. I love psychology because what I am learning, I can put into practice in my daily life. In my abnormal psychology class we have discussed post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression. These are things that we witness in ourselves or in those around us, so I find it really interesting. Oneonta wasn’t even on my list of colleges of interest, but my mother had a friend who told her about this institution and told us we had to come visit it. When we came to visit her, we loved it. I felt safe, I loved the community and how welcoming everyone was, I was fascinated by the campus and the buildings. It was a beautiful experience where I felt this was the perfect place for me. I applied for the early admission action and did not apply for any other school. When I was admitted, I was very excited and accepted the offer immediately, without regrets. After this semester I will have completed 94 credits out of 120. Which is crazy for me because I’ll already be in the last year for next semester.

This university is helping me a lot to complete my dreams of being an occupational therapist. This job, I don’t know where it’s going to take me. I don’t want to be somewhere away from my family, but my heart tells me that I have to live in another country. I think a lot about finding a job in Spain specifically Barcelona and that’s why I’m going to try to do my last semester of college there. I have never been to Spain, but my cousin lives in Madrid and I love how she looks in the photos and it is also the location of my favorite movie which is “Cheetah Girls 2”. I want to be truly bilingual so I can do this work almost everywhere in the world. Being bilingual is an advantage, especially in the workplace, so it is important that I practice my Spanish until I speak it fluently. If I can’t find a job in Spain, I’m going to look in Puerto Rico so I can be close to my grandmother. Being a therapist is going to change my personality in a positive way because I feel like I’m going to have more patience, I’m going to be more loving and happier, and I also feel like I’m going to learn a lot about how to treat people with disabilities and help them get along with their routine tasks. 

 Being a Hispanic person at this university makes me feel happy because I have a community within the Oneonta community. I can connect with people from other Latino countries with whom I can share my story as a Latina in the U.S. and find similar or different stories compared to mine. I’ve grown up in communities of little diversity, so it’s easy for me to get along with people from different cultures, but in some ways I feel different. Their upbringing was different from mine, their beliefs, their traditions, their goals, their way of living is different from mine, but that’s okay. I love that everyone is different and has their own story. That’s why Oneonta is the place I should be. Even though I am far from the people with whom I share my culture, I carry my culture with me. I share my story with my friends from different cultures and integrate into the Hispanic community here on campus in every way possible to stay connected to my roots. This is my language and my identity. I am a Latina, Puerto Rican and Dominican, who grew up in the U.S. I know my story is different from the other people, but this story is mine. The story of my life, my family, my culture, my language and how I live my culture is what makes me unique. 

— Emilia

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