Forced Migration: One BICer’s Experience — Diana Castillo (’17)

As we announced in May, BIC has taken on a new project we are calling BIC Grand Challenge–Forced Migrations. As we begin to explore this new theme within BIC, we offer a personal reflection by Diana Castillo (’17). We hope you take the time to read this powerful article on one BIC alum’s personal experience with forced migration.

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It was a gift to be nurtured by the BIC faculty and staff as a student. BIC made me ask hard questions and go beyond surface answers. I love that now, as an Admissions Analyst in the BIC, I get to nurture others on their BIC journey.

Since working in the BIC, I have looked back to examine my life and realized I am privileged. Dad was an enthusiastic business owner. Mom was an intelligent public administrator. My parents were hardworking- middle class Colombians. They met and got married during Colombia’s recession (1980s-1990s) and learned to endure the political turmoil of the drug wars, until something changed in their lives- my sister and I were born. The idea of creating a family and a place of safety became a struggle every year.

Around the 90s, the mafia infiltrated local business and laundered money. Opposing the mafia often meant death. As dad saw other business owners tortured and succumb to the control of the mafia, he rebelled by letting his business crash. Dad’s business perished alongside his hope for Colombia. Mom was holding on tight to her job, yet over time fear of having her family harmed intensified. Colombia was becoming a hostile place to live. After years of trying to stay, the opportunity for asylum in the U.S. became the only option. Mom and dad struggled when leaving their family, food, culture, and home behind for the sake of finding something better for their family. The day arrived when we hugged our old life goodbye and migrated to Florida.

Coming to the States was one of the hardest decisions. None of us had adequate English training since we never imagined moving. When arriving, the language barrier limited job opportunities, and we experienced bullying on both micro and macro levels. Over time, my sister and I learned English, becoming our parents’ translators and teachers. Additionally, we understood all the cruel things said about immigrants. Another obstacle was validating the Colombian degrees earned. Unless you had the money and time to go through the strenuous process, you were stuck. Some people evade moving between states in the US to avoid getting re-certified, yet alone go to a different country to do that. The accreditation issue left them with less desired jobs. Imagine having to leave your intellectually fulfilling job for a strenuous and often humiliating job that barely allowed you to pay the bills.

The initial road to “the American dream” was bumpy for my parents, yet time healed their wounds, made them patient, and opened doors for understanding. Despite my parents’ struggles, I honestly did not experience the same hardships they did. Mom and dad tried to make home, whether it was a small room, a run-down apartment, or a two-story house, feel like a safe haven. My sister and I grew up spoiled and loved. We learned to love our neighbors no matter who they were. We experienced a rich childhood blended with Colombian culture and U.S. tradition.

After many years of working strenuous jobs, Mom became a librarian where she taught elementary students the importance of education. Dad sacrificed his dream of owning a business in the US, instead working tirelessly as a custodian to provide stability. Even then, he cleaned someone else’s business with honor. My parents make me proud even if the world sees them differently. Although they worked as cooks, custodians, landscapers, etc., they used their creative and intellectual skills to make the US a better place. Today when I see cooks, custodians, or landscapers at Baylor, I often see my parents. I see the hardworking, yet joyful way they serve. My parents passed away before they got to see all the fruits of their labor, but, as the children of immigrants often do, my sister and I are now reaping the benefits arising from the grace of God and their hard work.

Despite the challenges, there have been many privileges. I was the first in my family to attend college and graduate in the US. My sister and I became U.S. citizens and later traveled back to Colombia when seeing its recent progress. We saw family we had not seen in 15 years since leaving. Senior year, I was given a scholarship to study abroad in France, which broadened my world view. After graduating with a degree in International Studies and French, I got the privilege of becoming BIC’s Admissions Analyst. Since then, my sister has moved in with me and hopes to graduate from Baylor. Furthermore, we took a leap of faith and bought a house to start an intentional community we like to call the Fortress.

Although these are highlights of my story, there are many immigrants with different stories who have not experienced the same privileges. For example, the fact we flew into Florida and did not have to navigate a harsh terrain, the fact that college is part of my story, and the fact that I enjoy my job says something. I get to live out these privileges because of the many teachers, mentors, and individuals who fought for me and my family when they saw us as more than just immigrants.

I hope that insight into my life and experiences gives you an opportunity to see immigrants in a new light. Whether they are refugees from neighboring or remote countries, most immigrants are not coming to become criminals or steal jobs. They are coming with hopes to live out a better life alongside their family and to work hard to make their new home a bright place to live. All they need is equity.

Recently, BIC began the journey of better understanding the complexities of forced migration. Because BIC allows us to look through an interconnected lens, this theme is being explored in all the class sequences. How is forced migration impacting the world of cultures, the world of rhetoric, the social world we are in, and the natural world? How is forced migration not just the issue of another, but a topic that makes you examine your own life?

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