Lives Without Borders: Belén

Milena Spremberg

In our lives without borders series, we share the stories of people whose lives have transcended cultural or geographic borders. To celebrate with Latin Heritage month, we're sharing the stories of people who've moved to the US from Latin America.

“School was hard and I wished I had the help that my friends did when they got home. Their parents would sit down with them and help them figure out their problems. My parents couldn’t do that.”

When Belén was 9 years old, she moved from Argentina to Utah because her family was experiencing religious prejudice. Today, still in the US, she opens up about feeling singled out, the sacrifices her parents made and embracing her heritage.

Buenos Aires is a huge city, so moving to a very rural place in Utah was a culture shock. My friends drove tractors to school and culturally there wasn’t much diversity. I felt singled out because I was the only brown person in class.

Having english as a second language was hard for me. I worked really hard on my accent, but teachers didn’t take me seriously, neither did my peers. I was smart for my age, but since I had to be taken out of classes to learn English I was labelled as not smart enough. I was always trying to find where I fit in and really struggled. There are two years of my life that I just don’t remember.

I ended up graduating top of my class in high school. I worked really hard for it. Weeks before graduation I was told I might be valedictorian. At the counselor’s office, they sat me down and said “A Latino has never done this before. Many of the Latinos here don’t even try.” That made me so frustrated.

It wasn’t until college that I finally accepted that it’s OK to be Latino, and it’s OK to be different. Your differences make you special – they give you the tools you need to contribute in a way that is powerful and benefits the community around you.

I miss a lot of things. The diversity, the culture, the food. But what I miss most is my extended family. I haven’t been able to see them since I left Argentina. It was hard during the holidays because we didn’t really have people to spend it with. It’s fun now to look back and see how my family adapted to that. We’d end up going to dinner with the Argentinos in the community or we’d invite people over who wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. I find gratitude in that now, but it was upsetting seeing my friends spend the holidays with their grandparents, and I couldn’t see mine.

My parents had a hard time communicating, so I was always the translator. It was frustrating to me that it took them a while to learn English. One day I came home frustrated. School was hard and I wished I had the help that my friends did when they got home. Their parents would sit down with them and help them figure out their problems. My parents couldn’t do that. My dad worked 3 jobs growing up, my mom worked 1. I didn’t see them until the late evenings. One time I told them that I hated that they didn’t have an education. I regret saying that.

My mom is going to college now. She’s incredible. And my father is the hardest working person I know. My dad had to give up his education to be able to provide for his family, and my mom’s college education from Argentina was nulled in the US. I look back on that, and I wish I had appreciated everything my parents sacrificed for me and my siblings. I’m forever grateful to them.

Now I see myself as a strong-willed Latina, but I didn’t consider myself that growing up. I was always determined, but never stood my ground. That’s something that I’m learning now. Argentinian women are so powerful. My mother has a strong personality and I admire that so much. I’m grateful that I started taking that on and feeling my strength as a Latina. The blood I carry is that of warriors. I’m most proud of the strength and pride Argetinos have.

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