By Ashley Vincenty
“Opportunities just knock on your door when you’re a Latina,” says a brave student who left Puerto Rico in search of new chances.
Natalia Román is a sophisticated, determined, but also friendly second year student at Kent University of Ohio. She was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to the United States to pursue a politician career. “The opportunities here are limitless and in Puerto Rico I felt a little bit more restrained in that matter” said Natalia.
Yet, circumstances have led her to change career paths and she is now majoring in communications. She said that she took an American politics class that she loved, thinking she was in the right path, but after two classes, she realized she “wasn’t really into it because I was looking at the political science career as more as an international relations.” After this, she quickly made the arrangements to change her concentration.
“A communications study major can basically lead you to anything,” said Ms. Román. She said that inter-personal communication skills are required everywhere. Thanks to this major, Ms. Román has had opportunities, like being called to speak out for the Latino community in her university.
Being so far from home can take a toll on you; Natalia Román was not an exception to this. “Oh yeah,” said the student when she remembered the difficulties of settling in a new atmosphere. Thoughtfully she added “I was alone…my family was in Puerto Rico…I pretty much had to battle it out on my own.”
Ms. Román explained that she would lock herself in her room and not socialize. Then she was introduced to the Spanish and Latino Student Association at Kent and that was when her student involvement and adaptation to her surroundings began.
SALSA is a student association at Kent with many goals. Natalia Román, who is currently its vice-president of the association, explained that the organization “tries to establish a safe environment for Latinos who feel lonely and need a home away from home.” SALSA also establishes networking ties with professionals in the Latino community.
Her achievements as vice-president include establishing more connections with different Latinos, and helping improve the association in general.
“SALSA has done a complete 360 turn,” said Tim Thomas, a colleague of Natalia Román and former member of SALSA. “SALSA has grown simply because Natalia is the outer person. She can interact with multiple kinds of people, she knows how to motivate people,” he added.
Natalia admits that, before she met SALSA and acquired some of her many achievements, she faced struggles. She paused, caught some air, and then began to smile when she said, “at the beginning, keeping up with the classes was kind of hard. It’s very overwhelming, especially when it’s not your first language.”
When one lives in Puerto Rico, all you hear is the pessimism that overshadows the island. “I became tired of all the negativity and being scared of going out late,” said Natalia concerned. “I didn’t see a lot of future in Puerto Rico.” Yet her being outside the island has made her grateful of where she comes from.
Many leave the country goes in search of the “American dream”. Ms. Román, on the other hand, said that “as a Puerto Rican in the United States, I can tell you, I have my own dreams, and they don’t involve me becoming American.” She hopes to become a Puerto Rican representative that people could be proud of.
Her moving to the US has also entailed a shift in her identity. Ms. Román is not only a Puerto Rican, she has become part of something bigger than PR: the Latino community.
“I didn’t like it at first because I was very proud of being Puerto Rican and not a Latina in general,” said Ms. Román twisting her lips. Though, afterwards she grew into liking the term because it made her feel special in a way and part of a population that she could relate to.
However, when she introduces herself, she says that she was born and raised in PR “to specify that I am legit” she said laughing. She wants people to recognize what has made her the outgoing and charismatic person she is and to let people know where she got her unique spicy personality.
The Latino community is a growing population “small but powerful and strong” says Ms. Román. “People look at me different here,” she said. “People look at me trying to figure out what I am,” she added, shaking her wild curls and mimicking comically how people would stare at her.
Still, that does not bother her. Ms. Román said that if she felt people were looking for trouble, she would approach them “nice but tough.” However, she admits, “sometimes that Latina rage comes out.”
Natalia, at a point, became frustrated and thought about giving up her studies in the US. “I was very depressed. I was just buried in books and A’s.”
When she considered leaving Kent, her advisor Marion Styles convinced her not to. Since then, she hasn’t thought about leaving again. “I have grown in every simple way. Living alone in the United States is not for everyone, but you’ll never know until you try it,” said Natalia smiling.