“English is not my first language, no way,” says Lucia Estrada, sophomore and communications major at University of Oregon. Lucia moved with her parents and sister from Lima, Peru to Lake Oswego, Oregon when she was 10 years old, leaving behind her 18 year-old brother at the time; she would not see him again for another eight years. Fortunately, she did not find it hard to make friends. “Other kids were very friendly and they all seemed pretty amused by the fact that I couldn’t speak English,” says Lucia, saying how her friends and her would resort to communication through playing games and drawing pictures. “Because I didn’t ‘speak the language,’ I wasn’t really required to do anything in school, and coming from an extremely strict, private Catholic school, it felt like heaven to me.”
After three months at school in the United States, she was able to hold a basic conversation, but it wasn’t until two or three years later that she would consider herself fluent. Reading and writing were her most difficult subjects.“Even today, I still find myself learning new words and mispronouncing words because of my Spanish accent.” She continues to speak Spanish at home with her family, and although she considers herself incredibly fluent in English, she finds certain phrases in English or Spanish do not translate directly into the other. She recommends to other students for whom English isn’t their first language to start learning early, and to engage in as many completely English social settings as possible. “Fortunately, I’ve never felt alienated due to my ethnicity. There are always people who will make certain stereotypical jokes, but I mainly just ignore them.” A common misconception is assuming she is Mexican; Lucia has still never been to Mexico, and before she came to the US, was not familiar with the associated stereotypes.
There were also many cultural differences Lucia faced upon arriving to the U.S. In Peru, it is polite to kiss people on the cheek in social settings, a practice that she quickly learned was not as widely accepted here. Peru holds a very traditional, conservative culture, dating back from ancestors in the Andes Mountains. “It is not common for kids to leave their parents’ home until they are married,” says Lucia. Religion is a large part of life for Peruvian families, so Lucia found it interesting to see the variety of religions in the United States, as well as the large array of different foods. Lucia continues to take Spanish is college, hoping to improve her grammar and vocabulary, and seeks a future in her bilingual studies with multicultural communications. She hopes to use her skills to help other immigrants in the country. She plans on becoming an American citizen and having dual citizenship within the year. On weekends, you can find Lucia revisiting her Latin American roots through her salsa classes.
“I miss Peru every day; I miss my family, my friends, the food, the people, the culture, the music, and so many other things. But I’ve created a great life here and worked very hard to be where I am today. I want to be able to visit Peru every year, but live here in Oregon.” Lucia loves the scenery here, “It’s so green! So many trees and flowers. The people are really nice, there’s great coffee, and weird-flavored donuts. There’s less pollution and most people recycle. You can drink the water from the sink without getting sick, and there are lots of outdoor activities,” she says.