Latinos at ISU say some groups don’t get along

Tim Paluch

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a four-part series on relations at Iowa State among people classified in the same racial group.

Leticia Romo grew up 20 minutes from the Mexican border in California. Both her parents are Mexican, and she speaks fluent Spanish.

But on a Spring Break trip to Mexico, Romo, sophomore in business, was told that she wasn’t an “authentic” Mexican because she was born in America.

“It was kind of like an eye opener going down there and being told I wasn’t authentic,” she said. “You want to be accepted, especially by the people you identify with.”

As a Mexican American at Iowa State, Romo said she sometimes finds herself intimidated to approach Mexican students.

“Sometimes I feel I am not Mexican enough to go over and talk to someone who’s from Mexico,” she said. “I know my Spanish, but I feel like if I mess up, I’m going to totally disgrace them, so they’re not going to want to talk to me anymore.”

Susana Rundquist, minority liaison officer with the College of Education and adviser to the Mexican American Young Achievers Society, said American Latinos and international Latino and Hispanic students do not have a close-knit relationship at Iowa State.

“At Iowa State, there are opportunities for relationships, but I’m not sure if it’s happening as of late,” she said. “There’s definitely that presence of being born in the United States and being proud to be American, but I don’t really see that connection with international students. When you don’t have that knowledge there’s going to be that fear of another culture or another individual.”

Elias Lorenzo-Lorenzo, adjunct assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures from Puerto Rico, said international Hispanic and Latino students are “pretty much divided” from American Latinos.

“We don’t work together,” he said. “Everyone has totally different interests.”

Lorenzo said the separation is understandable because the two groups come from entirely different places and speak different languages.

“When we get together, we Puerto Ricans speak Spanish, not English, while you see the Latinos using English,” he said. “We Puerto Ricans are Spanish American, so we feel closer to anybody who speaks Spanish, whether from Venezuela, Colombia or Mexico, than to a Latino of Mexican descent who uses only English and considers themselves Latino.”

Yaira Gonzalez, sophomore in microbiology from Puerto Rico, said it is sometimes hard as a Spanish-speaking student from outside the United States to relate with American Latinos.

“They may be classified as Latino, but they can be from Iowa or Chicago, and their culture is just American culture,” she said. “They don’t know anything about my culture. They’ve been here all their lives, and I’m from a different place.”

It’s a lot easier to relate to international Spanish-speaking students, Gonzalez said, because “they’re having the same experiences that I am.”

Keren Zuniga, graduate student in human development and family studies and president of MAYAS, said she also has been told she is not a “real Latino.”

“Just because I was born in the United States or because my Spanish wasn’t perfectly flowing,” she said.

With so few Hispanic and Latino students at Iowa State, Zuniga said language differences shouldn’t be such a big deal.

“I’ve heard people say to other people they’re not really Hispanic because they can’t speak Spanish,” she said. “I don’t think language should be a defining factor; I think it should be more of what you call yourself – your personal identification.”

Lorenzo said Iowa State tends to see all Hispanics and Latinos as the same people, which they are not.

“It doesn’t matter what they do or how many classifications they have, we know that we are not the same people,” he said. “We are not even speaking the same language.”

There will always be division among international and American Latino and Hispanic students, Romo said, but she doesn’t want her heritage questioned.

“The last thing I want is for somebody else to tell me I’m not authentic,” she said. “Because then that leaves me to ask who I am. If I’m not accepted in Mexico and I’m not fully accepted in the United States, where do I go?”