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In Their Words, from Roosevelt University's ALAS student group

In Their Words

Posted: 12/18/2012

By Laura Janota | Photography by Bob Coscarelli

Roosevelt Review, Fall 2012 [ PDF ]

One of the most active and involved student organizations at Roosevelt University is the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), a group with more than 50 members who are dedicated to promoting cultural awareness and diversity.

ALAS has become a significant student organization, in part because the number of Latino students at Roosevelt University has grown. Since 2008, Hispanic student enrollment has increased by 17 percent. However, ALAS is more than a Latino organization. Open to all students, its members include whites, blacks and Asians, including a Chinese- American student. Many ALAS members are the first in their families to attend college and these students are easily recognized during Commencement, as they wear brightly colored stoles over their black graduation gowns when they cross the Auditorium Theatre stage to receive their diplomas.

One of the group’s main goals has been to encourage its members to tell their personal stories so that cultural awareness can continue to grow. Roosevelt Review is pleased to share the experiences of five ALAS members whose stories are similar to those of thousands of young people in America.

Janet Rosas
Class of 2013 | Majoring in International Studies

I am a sister, daughter, friend, traveler, organizer, community member, activist and first-generation Mexican-American woman. I am also an International Studies student, senior and former president of ALAS. In the spring, I will be the second in my family to graduate from college.

Janet Rosas

This is my story. It starts with my mother and my father. They didn’t know each other when they immigrated to the United States during the 1980s, leaving behind families and childhood memories to find employment so they could help their beloved families back home economically. By chance, they met in the workplace here, and with a twist of romance and fortune, returned to Mexico to ask permission of their families to marry and start a family. Today, we are a family of 10.

I didn’t grow up in the city of Chicago, but rather in the suburbs near O’Hare Airport. I remember my parents both working long hours, and in need of sleep. My mom would take us to the sewing factory where she worked. I remember us pretending to camp under the factory’s tables in tents we made of fabric remnants using pillows for our heads that we had brought from home. The factory is where I discovered the crème taste of coffee and the freshness of mint gum. When we weren’t able to spend the night with my mom at the factory, I would be the mom at home, making bottles of milk for the little one.

My mom has always been more than a stay-at-home wife. Because she worked, she was able to help my dad open his own trucking business in 2002. Since then, together, and amid many struggles, they have kept a small company running. It has taught me that with dedication and goodwill anything is possible.

I am well aware of my privileges being born and raised in the United States. I also acknowledge there is an advantage in being fluent in both English and Spanish. As a Roosevelt student, I have had study abroad experiences in Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa. I have also worked closely in Chicago’s Pilsen community where I helped coordinate an after-school program and also created a summerschool program for students at Pilsen’s La Casita community library.

I know that the day of my graduation will be one of many milestones on my life’s journey. My next step will be to go to graduate school so I can get a doctorate degree and become a college professor. Ideally, I would want to follow in the footsteps of many of my professors here at Roosevelt, for they have taught me the importance of being active and an agent for change in my community.

Gerardo Ramirez
Class of 2012 | Alumnus, Majored in Political Science

Gerardo Ramirez

I am the son of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States more than two decades ago in pursuit of the American dream. In May, I became the first in my family to receive a college degree – a bachelor’s degree in political science from Roosevelt University.

The degree is important to me as I believe it will help me achieve my goal of helping Latino immigrants, like myself, reach their own goals of a better life and better future for themselves and their families.

Born in Mexico in 1988, I came to the United States with my mother and with the help of my father who was living and working in Chicago at the time. Raised for most of my life on the city’s north side, I am grateful for the many opportunities I have received, including the chance to get a bachelor’s degree at Roosevelt and an associate’s degree at Morton College in Cicero.

While I have dual citizenship in Mexico and the United States, I still tend to consider myself as a U.S. immigrant because I understand the obstacles immigrants face in trying to achieve a better quality of life for themselves and their families than is available to them back home in their native countries.

Sometimes, it depresses me when I see friends and relatives, who are not legal residents, but who have tremendous hopes and dreams for a future in America, being made to feel that they have no place in this country. Too many of them are working harder than most Americans in menial jobs without a future. Too many of them fear the police, and are living constantly with the threat of being deported if they are stopped or arrested by police on something as simple as a traffic violation.

As a Roosevelt political science graduate, my ultimate goal is to one day run for political office so that I can make a difference in helping immigrants gain the access they deserve for a better life and opportunity in the United States. It is one of the main reasons I chose to pursue a college degree in the first place.

Brenda Lara
Class of 2014 | Majoring in International Studies

I’m a 22-year-old college student with a bright future as a major in International Studies at Roosevelt University, but I want something more important to me than any success – and that is for my dad to be safe and always be at my side.Brenda Lara

He’s been there at my soccer games, grade-school graduation, high school years, and during my time at Roosevelt. Since I was a youngster, the most important man in my life has been my step dad, but I never call him that, or anything, but dad.

My mom met him when I was seven years old and she was a single mother. She wasn’t sure he would understand her or take her in with me as a child of his own. He has helped us tremendously and changed our lives, but his help and change for the better have come with a problem: my father is an undocumented immigrant who could get deported at any time.

We originally believed this would not be a problem, particularly if my mom and dad married. She could file for residency papers and everything would be fine. But we were wrong, for 13 years after my parents first married, and 10 years since we petitioned for change to my dad’s immigration status, my dad is still not a permanent U.S. resident.

Most of my life has been spent in fear that I would lose my dad, our family torn apart. He was able to get a worker’s permit while I was in high school, but every day we still live in fear that my dad might lose his job and that no one will hire him because of his status. It has been a tough battle to fight, and I hope that some politician someday soon will realize that the only thing an immigrant wants is a job and to be able to stay with his or her family. If I could make a wish right now it would still be for my dad to be safe and at my side.

John Contreras
Class of 2013 | Majoring in English

John Contreras

I am living proof that children without a mother can prosper in life and be ambitious. I was recently vice president of the Association of Latin American Students at Roosevelt University. In May, I will also be the first in my family to graduate from college.

As a Mexican American, I was born and raised in Chicago mostly by my father and I have to admit at times it was lonely. My dad would work throughout the night and sleep most of the day. I love him for the sacrifices he made, but sometimes wish he’d been around more often to spend time with me and my younger brother.

Because he wasn’t always there, my brother and I would play together, spend virtually all our time together, and make do with whatever we could. There were times when we wanted to go to the park and my grandmother wouldn’t allow it because she was concerned for our safety.

I can’t help feeling at times that I was robbed of my childhood, but I think it has all worked out for the best. I graduated from high school, I’m about to finish college and I know that my father is proud of me.

I’d like to become a high school English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. It would enable me to go back to the neighborhood that shaped my past and to tell students who are growing up in the very same place I did, many of them in single-parent homes, how I was able to overcome obstacles on the way to a path of success.

Kenneth Li
Class of 2015 | Majoring in Psychology

Have you ever noticed that Asians in America most frequently are pegged as Chinese? Maybe I should be happy that my people are popular and well known to Americans. Then again, when I consider the many stereotypes that are associated with being Chinese, I sometimes get upset. However, these small struggles I have been through have caused me to become open minded and accepting of all races.Kenneth Li

Being the son of Chinese immigrants, I grew up learning both English and Chinese. I am proud to be able to speak two languages fluently, and am prouder still of my Chinese- American heritage. For me, there wasn’t really a “first language” and learning two completely different languages at once was a challenge. However, there are people in the world who think other non-native languages are funny. Often they laugh at the way we speak.

Growing up, I dealt with playground bullies, gangbangers and their racist slurs in which I was stereotyped as being shy, bookish and a nerd who won’t ever lose his virginity. They even found a way to make fun of our “funny kung fu moves.”

I used to tell myself that kung fu moves wouldn’t actually win any fights. I also used to think that taking a martial art would only heighten the funny image that some Americans have of Asians like me. Then I discovered that kung fu moves are actually a form of healthy exercise. So why should I be afraid of my own tradition? As I grew in maturity, I began to broaden my mind and accept things in society that I would look down on before.

These are small things, and only part of the reason why I decided last year as a freshman psychology major to join the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS). It is a student organization that fights for the rights of all ethnic groups and minorities, regardless of legal status. This academic year, I am the secretary of Roosevelt’s chapter of ALAS.

Today, I am doing well at Roosevelt University. Because of my Chinese background, I understand how important it is to honor and listen to elders. As an American, I also have had a taste of doing things for myself and being independent. As a result, I am able to bridge the gap between what I call “collectivist” Asia and “individualistic” America.

Last updated 06/01/2015