ORLANDO – As many organizations, including News 6, celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, UCF’s Puerto Rico Research hub is honoring the month through a number of activities and a series of panel discussions on key issues the Hispanic and Latinx community is facing.
Earlier this week, they hosted a panel with students, where they talked about diversity, identity, what has helped them get through the school year.
The panel included students Jose Canales, Antonia Jimenez Iriarte, Fernanda Antezana, Gerardo Torres, and Lucia Mostaffa.
Jose Canales says he went through a lot just to get to the University of Central Florida.
First, there was a tuition increase at the University of Puerto Rico, the only public school on the island. Then he finally decided to move to Florida after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
“I had to spend two years in order to get back on my feet because the language barrier was a problem and the culture as well was an issue. I also had to afford money by working as an employee at a retail store and then in 2019 in August, I got the admission letter from UCF to continue my education,” said Canales.
Right now he’s majoring in Kinesiology and he’s hoping to graduate next year.
The students also talked about what it’s been like being away from their families. Iriarte said she’s originally from Bogotá in Colombia. She says she was raised in El Salvador, and she’s majoring in electrical engineering.
“At first it will always be difficult and changes are difficult, but I think that what’s important is to keep focused on what you want to do in your life, because that will encourage you to keep fighting for it. Yeah, I would love to be with my family here and I miss them every day, but I always remember that I’m doing this for me and for them,” said Iriarte.
Antezana is originally from Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. She’s studying biomedical sciences and hoping to go to optometry school. She discussed the challenges she faced when first going to UCF. She says it was a culture shock and she felt like an outsider. She then realized her background and heritage is what makes her unique.
“I’ve realized that the whole idea of people looking at me differently or thinking of me differently because I have an accent or I’m from somewhere else, that’s just in my head sometimes. The only way to go through it is just by changing yourself and valuing yourself more. It is really precious to have a different culture. I feel like we should value more of the fact that we come from different places because that’s amazing,” said Antezana.
During the panel, a lot of the students agreed that joining clubs and organizations has helped them through their studies.
The organization hosting the panel, the UCF Puerto Rico Research Hub, was created after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.
The hub is dedicated to studying Puerto Rico, education, and finding solutions to issues the population is dealing with. They also provide support and resources to Hispanic and Latinx students.
You can watch the full conversation below: