Daniel Correa

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Daniel Correa is a junior transfer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Journalism. He immigrated to the United States with his parents and younger sister from Bogotá, Colombia in 2001, seeking political asylum. Correa moved to Miami at the age of eight and then to Cornelius, North Carolina when he was thirteen to finish school. He was in a special English-Spanish learning program in Miami before coming to North Carolina. Most of Daniel’s family still lives in Colombia and he discusses how close-knit they are. He also talks about how hard of a transition it was for them to emigrate. He discusses different experiences he has gone through here in the US, what forced them to seek political asylum and what it means to adapt to “American” culture.



Luis Acosta: Hello this is Luis Acosta. The Date is February 26th 2015. This time is 8:56 PM. We are in Carmichael Residence Hall on the 4th floor room 448, and I am here with Daniel Correa. Hey Daniel thank you so much for being with me today. To start off can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
[00:00:34] Daniel Correa: Yeah sure. I am in the J School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am studying advertising. I am also part of the UNC Act club. I live outside of Charlotte, and I am in-state, but before that I lived in Miami. I was actually born in Columbia—in Bogotá, Columbia. And yeah, I’ve been in this country since 2001. Now I’m at Carolina.
LA: So Daniel, what made you choose UNC of all places?
[00:01:12] DC: Well, UNC wasn’t my first choice. I was actually looking into the University of Florida. Initially I was first pursuing business, and the Kenan-Flagler School is one of the best schools in the Nation—in the world, if you will. So I looked into, and it was only 2 hours away from Charlotte and it had really good proximity. So yeah, why not give it a try? I applied into it-- I applied to UNC—not the business school. And yeah just by getting into it, I grew fond of UNC, and really wanted to come here. And yeah, the Journalism school is actually ranked higher than the business school, so I just decided to go with it.
LA: Daniel, you mentioned growing up in Miami, and you said you went to school in Charlotte though—or you currently live in Charlotte—can you comment or expand on that?
DC: Yeah, yeah it’s been very different, Miami is a very different place than Charlotte. When I lived in Miami, it was surprisingly, the majority of the school, like more than 80 percent were minorities. And then those, there weren’t many actual Caucasians down in Miami. The school where I grew up—where I went—and it was very different, there were many immigrants from Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic you know? Any country you name it. And yeah it’s a diverse place, and going from there to Charlotte is very different, where you, I was actually a minority here, where the majority is obviously Caucasian. It’s very different. Hispanics here, they are not like from South America or the Caribbean. A lot of them are from Central America or are Mexican. It’s been quite different.
LA: So how long did you stay in Miami? Like were you born there?
DC: I was born in Colombia. When I was 8 years old, the year 2001, the same year as the twin towers, that November we came to Miami, just in search of a better life—more opportunity. My parents came here to find better opportunities for me and my sister. And yeah, just a better future.
[00:03:59] LA: Was it hard working out any legal stuff when you came over? Or do you want to describe how that experience was during the time when migrating over?
DC: I was actually 8 years old, so I don’t quite remember. I do know we came here through what is called, political asylum. So, we became permanent residents for 9 10 years, and after that, they gave us the chance to become citizens.
LA: So why were you granted political asylum from Colombia. Would you mind sharing any of that with me?
[00:04:48] DC: I don’t mind sharing (laughs). My mom because she was actually a journalist for a long time in Colombia. And Columbia in the early 90s, late 80s, it was a dangerous place. Like drug campaigns, and Pablo Escobar, and many drug cartels, so my mom was a journalist at those times. One reason she told me we came to this country was because, she got a threat from the rebel forces over there (the name of the group?), and they threatened us, I guess threatened my mom, I guess it was a minor threat, but to this day, they are still in Colombia. They are not as violent as they used to be, but they still use terrorist tactics, and they kidnap important people in Colombia, and my mom didn’t want to take that risk, and yeah that was one reason why we came here. She asked for political asylum and they gave it to us, and we got to this country. Before that, my dad he actually came to the US, because my uncle was already in, in Delaware. So my dad came to the US and started working with him. And soon, the threat happened, and we decided to move over here. So yeah, that’s why we got political asylum.
LA: So how did your dad cross over since your mom was granted political asylum? It seems like your dad came in before your mom.
DC: Yeah, I am not really sure, I don’t know how my dad did it, and I think he did it the same way. Because he came here, and then a year later we stayed. I thought it was a workers visa, but never went back—actually he did go back to Colombia—so think he filed for that before us, so he got here, and I think he was political asylum as well.
LA: What occupation did your dad do back in Colombia?
DC: My dad he worked for banks in Colombia. Yeah, he worked for a major bank.
[00:07:17] LA: So your mom was a journalist, and your dad was a banker. After the death of Pablo Escobar, did she ever feel the need to go back? Or did she think this was the better option for educational opportunities.
DC: She really wanted to go back, because my whole family is over there. Literally everybody, my uncles, grandparents, cousins, and I guess you could say we are a small family, there is no more than 20 people, and we are really close to each other. I guess that was really hard on her, and I was really young, but she tells me stories that are hard on me as well. But yeah, she decided she wanted to go back and visit—and sometimes she wants to go back for good—but she was really persistent about how she wanted us to have a future here. She wanted us to become American citizens, because once you learn English, you’re bilingual, you are an American citizen you can travel anyone, doors open up for you as far as opportunities. That is the reason we are still here.
LA: You mentioned you were born in Bogotá, Colombia, and you lived there from birth until you were 8 years old, correct? Were you in the city-city or the suburbs? If there is any over there- which I’m sure there is but I’m just unfamiliar with the city structure and environment over there.
[00:08:58] DC: Well Colombia, I lived in the plain city. Colombia is pretty much the whitest place the North/South, which is, they are not bad areas, but they are filled with people who don’t have much money. The “North” is more expensive, and it is a nicer area with better schools. I lived in the “South”, in my grandparents’ house, but then my mom eventually we moved out to the “North”, and we got our apartment out there, and we own it to this day, and she is trying to sell it or get rid of it.
LA: Can you describe schools back in Bogotá, Colombia?
DC: It’s really different than in the US. It’s not um, you’re like in the states like there is a lot of public schools and they are divided by districts. Over there, there is public schools, but they are not good schools. Majority of people try to go to private schools. So I went to a private school called, (name of school), which was founded by people from Spain. There is a lot of schools founded in Colombia, schools like Germans go there in startup schools. And people from Britain go and start up a school. And yeah, it was a really good school, it was a whole system that went from 1st grade all the way to 11th. They don’t have 12th grade like here. They stop at 11, and they are very different at education over there. I remember I was doing very complicated math problems, and then I got here, and it was very, it was very behind over here. I felt kind of advance, and yeah, it was just very different.
LA: How was your experience, besides knowing more math problems like you said than the rest of the kids, I guess the social aspects and other like the English barrier if you learned that in Colombia?
[00:11:33] DC: Well it was surprisingly not as tough as you think it would be. It wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be—or people think it is. In Miami, everybody is Hispanics, so where I went, there were a lot of Hispanics and Spanish speaking—so it wasn’t as hard in that sense, but you are in the states, so English is the first language. There is actually a barrier, but actually, Miami has a really good program called (Name of program), where students who come from different countries, they try to immerse them in English and they help them out, so it’s a great program, you’re there for like 4 or 5 years. So I think that really helped out.
LA: So why did your family come to North Carolina of all places after Miami?
DC: Well, we actually didn’t expect it. It was mostly because I was turning 13 in Miami. It’s a good city, but the thing is it’s not the best place to raise children. So my parents wanted something more family oriented where there is not much of a big city life. A smaller town, where they could keep a closer eye on my sister and I. I was actually in Delaware with my uncle one summer, I was going to do summer school, and they came to pick me up (drove up from Miami), and they passed by North Carolina, and they knew a friend of a friend, and they stayed at her house. The lady told my parents about North Carolina and how good it was, and yeah it that got into their mind, and we got back to Miami, and they started looking into North Carolina, and they got an apartment, and we moved here.
LA: What kind of work was your father doing in Delaware? If you don’t mind me asking.
[00:13:50] DC: Well my Dad had the language barrier. He was just, he worked everything. He did construction, delivery, all of that with my uncle.
LA: So did your uncle who lived in Delaware help you settle into North Carolina? Or did the lady y’all talked with help you settle? Or was it just your family’s effort?
DC: It was more on our own. Our uncle was in Delaware so he couldn’t really help us out. The lady became friends with my mom, and it was a decision that my parents took—I guess we as a family took—it was only us.
LA: So knowing that you moved place to place, what would you consider your hometown above all—Charlotte, Miami, or Bogotá, Colombia?
[15:03] DC: That’s actually a very tough question. Colombia is where my roots are, that is where my family is, but I left it when I was really young, so I can’t forget my roots. Miami was difficult years, because I was getting into the wrong things, but yeah I came to North Carolina, and it was tough in the beginning, but I think of the place where I have grown as a person the most. The place where I have advanced, so it’s a really hard question. So if people were asking for my home town, I was say Cornelius, North Carolina.
LA: So what do people normally do in Colombia for employment?
DC: It’s different. To find a job over there is really tough. The problem is students who actually study something, and when they are out looking for a job it is difficult to find. It’s just like any other place. People work in banking, people work in all different sorts of departments, and it’s just work is hard to come by. It’s not like here, where, the more experience you have under your belt. If you are older here with a lot of experience, you don’t have a problem finding a job. But in Colombia, they don’t want people who are older. They want younger professionals in their late 20s and early 30s. They also don’t want really young kids. That’s why it’s tough to find. You get a lot of experience, but if you are older, it’s tougher to find a job.
LA: Who usually migrates from Colombia? So do people of a certain gender, age, do people who want to have a job in the US, people with visas?
[00:17:30] DC: The majority of people who have migrated are people with kids. Families that want to find better places for their kids. A lot of people move here, are not sure where they are going to work at. It’s very unselfish, they come here just thinking of their children. But I’m sure there are some, people who come with really good jobs waiting for them. I would say the majority that I have met are parents that are looking for better lives for future generations.
LA: Are the majority of these migrants, did you meet them in Miami, I’m guessing correct?
DC: Yes, majority in Miami. There is a couple in North Carolina that we have met. But as far as people in Colombia, there are a lot in Miami and New York.
[00:18:29] LA: Do you feel Miami is a tunnel for migrants from Bogota, Colombia?
DC: Not only from Colombia, but from every single Hispanic country. Even from, I’ve meet a couple of Europeans. It’s a really good transition, it’s a culture shock, but it’s really not that bad. You still find people from your home country who practice your customs. Other Hispanics, people just choose to go that route because it’s not that much of a culture shock.
LA: Do people in Colombia, do they talk about, is it common for people to talk about life in the US as opposed to life in Colombia—is it relevant for people to talk about?
DC: Yeah, people talk about whether they should come to the US or whether they should stay. Some people are just not willing to take the risk, it’s a 3rd world country, but it has progressed a lot. It certainly is a great place. People don’t want to take the risk of moving to a new country and experiencing culture shock. And the people do, so yeah that brings up a lot of conversation between a lot of people.
[00:20:14] LA: So I’m guessing you speak Spanish at home or do you speak English with your family.
DC: I only speak Spanish with my family at home. I speak English with my sister, and we can here when I was 8 and she was 3. So I speak English with here.
LA: So do any of your parents know English?
DC: My dad knows English pretty well. My mom knows English, she understands it, and she just has problems speaking it. Yeah, I’d say she’s pretty decent.
LA: How far did your parents reach in school?
DC: My mom actually got her bachelors and masters in Journalism, and she specialized with her masters. My dad didn’t finish his bachelors just because he was actually going to a state school. The school at the time was having a lot of riots, and there were just a lot of happenings, and he stopped going, because he didn’t think it was a very safe place.
[00:21:37] LA: -------- Pablo Escobar, drug cartels and all of that?
DC: Yeah I think so, it was because of that. Also the government at the time was very corrupt. Yeah, a lot of people just rioted, it was just a lot of crime and injustice.
LA: So what are do your parents do now that they are in North Carolina and are settled?
DC: Well my mom works for a public relations firm from home. She freelances a lot. My dad works for a factory job.
LA: Would you say, like, your mom wished she could be back doing journalism and is that something she misses, especially given the amount of time she put in for the occupation back in Colombia?
DC: She actually really loved it. But she told me that it was something that was good for some time, because she was doing it while I was really young. She had to travel outside of Bogotá, she traveled a lot. It was just, at the time she liked it a lot. She wouldn’t want to do it now, because it requires a lot of energy, a lot of moving. She has just settled down more.
LA: So have you gone back to Colombia, and if you have, how do your cousins interact with you, now that you live in America?
[00: 23:38] DC: Yeah, I went back in 2012, in December. It was great seeing family again, almost after 10 years. My cousins are learning English, and they are going to private school—a really good private school—in Colombia. The majority of it is in English. My other cousins think it’s cool and they have visited.
LA: I remember you mentioned that it has been, you took 10 years to get back to Bogota Colombia. Can you elaborate on why it took so long for you to get back?
DC: Well, we weren’t able to go back before that. I guess political asylum, you become a permanent resident, and you are not permitted to leave the country until you become a citizen. The process is estimated anywhere from 8 to 15 years. We couldn’t go before that, and we technically, and after the 8th year, but it was not for certain that if you would go, you would be able to travel, you would be able to come back. My parents didn’t want to take that risk. We waited till we became actual US citizens. That’s why we waited 10 years, because that is how long the process took.
LA: I also remember you mentioning that your cousins have been able to come over and visit you here. Are they also residents here? Do they have visas? Can you elaborate on that? DC: Yeah, sure. My cousin, two of my cousins, came and stayed with my mom. They have come visiting, they have already come twice, and yeah they have visas, so they just came for vacation. They came once, like in 2004/2005, and then they came about 2 years ago, saw Disney world and all the sites. My other cousin, she came last year, and she did have a visa, but she was trying to come here and start school, and try to have the experience under her belt. It shows really good if you have experience—if you have gone to school in the states. She just came to become a student here.
LA: So is she studying here now?
DC: No, she had to leave. It’s very complicated. It was not more of a state thing—not federal. The state of North Carolina was very tough for her, I think the problem was because she had already graduated, so she was no longer considered a student. So it was really hard for her to become a student here. My mom had to go to different schools and talk to the system, but it was more of state thing. In Florida, the process is much easier.
LA: It seems like the rest of your family, they weren’t in any high risk situations to gain political asylum. Did your mother, I guess, cover Escobar, the whole drug cartels?
DC: She wasn’t a major reporter during the Escobar thing, but she did interview with presidents and stuff like that. Like the president ---. I think she went to school with one of them. She was very big into that. I guess in Colombia there, Escobar targeted a lot of people in politics within the government. My mom wasn’t in the government, but she was very involved as far as interviewing goes. And during that time, just randomly, Pablo Escobar hid bombs throughout the city. He would just kill innocent people like that.
LA: During any of those times, did you ever feel unsafe?
[00:28:58] DC: No I never felt unsafe in Colombia. The thing was, I was born, and three months later they killed Pablo Escobar. I never really felt unsafe, because he was killed, but at the same time after that, we call ----, which is the rebel armed forces, so they were still doing their thing. Like throughout the years, a lot of things happened, but I was not actually concerned about my safety
LA: Does most of your family live in Colombia, your grandparents, uncles, and ants? Your family is the only one here right?
DC: Yeah all of my close family lives in Colombia, my really close family, my mom’s side, my dad’s side. I do have a couple of, cousins, second generation cousins, some uncles, just some people spread through the United States. My really close family, they are in Colombia.
LA: Have you ever had any sort of, any have you ever felt left out of any experiences, that the rest of your friends are having in the public education system, like “bring your grandparents to school day” or “thanksgiving celebrations” or are you missing that?
[00:30:54] DC: Yeah. For one thing, as far as education opportunities, I doubt it. This is the land of opportunities. This is the place where you can do something with your life if you are willing to work hard enough. As far as opportunities, no. But missing family, a lot of people have reunions, and yeah, it will only be my parents and my sister and I, and other people who are here have their whole family, so it’ll be a really big thing. But besides that, that’s about it.
LA: Have you ever had any sort of different, situations, where you felt uncomfortable, around people who don’t have the same culture as yourself.
DC: Yeah definitely. As soon as I moved here, it was a really hard change. I was really used to having people understand where I came from—and had the same struggles. Majority of my friends in Miami, are Colombian. They were in the same situation that I was. They came to this country for a better future, and my parents became friends with their parents. I guess I just created a bond, because we would know all the struggles we went thought. Here in NC it wasn’t like that, it was tough in the beginning, but I adapted to it, and throughout the years, after becoming American. I got citizenship from living here so long. At the same time, I became an American as far as my customs, hobbies, and majority of the things I do reflect more of an American than a Colombian.
[00:33:07] LA: Would you say that it is a positive or negative thing in your opinion-- the assimilation?
DC: I would say, it is kind of neutral. I was say its negative, when it comes to the point where, you don’t own up to your roots. You deny that you are Colombian or Hispanic for that matter. When it comes to the point where you forget where you come from, when you get so into the American culture and forget where your roots come from, then it becomes negative. People shouldn’t have to question their identity when it comes down to that. It’s very neutral. You move to the US, and of course, the US you only hang out with Americans, you adapt to their culture and there is no way out of that. It’s not a bad thing, I just don’t think you should forget where you come from.
LA: Say, if people were to look at you, what would they say you are?
DC: It’s tough. In Miami, people looked at me, and they instantly knew I was Hispanic, majority of people look at you, a lot of people are white, blue eyes, light hair. And you know, people are Cuban, Colombia, Puerto Rican, it’s different. While here in NC, majority of people already have a certain stereotype, there is just they already know how Hispanics look like. They just expect all Hispanics to have darker skin and darker hair. People look at me, and they just instantly think that I am white.
LA: Can you give me some characteristics about yourself that would make them think that?
DC: As far as physical characteristics?
LA: And any other characteristics that you can think of.
DC: Well I’m pretty light skinned. I have blue eyes, I have brown hair, I guess the way I dress, doesn’t really say that I’m—I don’t really dress like a foreigner. For example, music I listen to, I’m not like majority of Hispanics—I don’t listen to Spanish music at all. Yeah, I just prefer not to. The culture, and just that.
[00:36:24] LA: Have you ever felt like, I don’t know if you have ever got any social—do you—because of this ambiguity, that you might pose for people, have you ever felt you have been treated differently from Latinos in social scenes?
[00:37:01] DC: No, I don’t think I have been treated different. I guess here, since there is a lot of, the majority of Hispanics are Mexican or Central American, I guess they look at me and think I’m white. I guess people have talked about me and don’t know I’m Hispanic. It’s very natural. You instantly feel accepted, because you’re Hispanic and they’re Hispanic.
LA: Can you talk about an experience, where they talk Spanish, and they thought you didn’t know any?
[00:37:52] DC: Yeah, it happens a lot actually. It’s just, they are not necessary talking to me, but they are with other Hispanics, just talking, then I would cut in line, and they will talk in Spanish thinking I won’t understand, but I actually do.
LA: That’s interesting. What sort of support have you had along your young adult journey going through college now?
DC: Well going through college, my family, my mom, my dad, a lot of support from my family in Colombia. I talk to them, very frequently, and also, just support from some friends here at Carolina. The majority thing has been just friends, some friends back home in Charlotte, and just family.
LA: Have you ever had any teachers in your life that have helped you along your journey?
DC: As far as getting involved in my life?
LA: Yeah.
DC: I guess if I’m thinking about it, no. I have had professors that have asked and they have helped me out, but as far as getting into my life and getting to know me deeply, not really. There have been a lot of professors who are really helpful at my last college and even here at Carolina.
LA: What was your last college?
DC: It was Central Piedmont. It was a community college in Charlotte.
LA: So you just wanted to transfer out of there, because…
DC: No I wanted to transfer, because I went to community college, because I didn’t know, for one thing, I didn’t understand the whole college thing, because I was the first one to go to college in the US. I didn’t know how it worked, and my parents didn’t either so they couldn’t really help me out with that. I also had no idea what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t sure if I was getting help financially. We definitely did not have the money, and I decided to play it safe with community college and took classes there.
[00:41:04] LA: Now your career goals are to follow the footsteps of your mom, correct?
DC: Uh yeah. It’s different. My mom is a journalist, and now she has now transitioned into public relations. I guess I’m in the same field—I’m in the Journalism school—but I’m doing advertising as my concentration. Advertising is a totally different business, but that’s what I’m going for.
LA: Has she had any influence or is this all you?
DC: Oh yeah she has had a really big influence. Just my career, and she has been supportive, and I have been frustrated, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. First and Second year of college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I think she helped me out a lot. She also had a lot of support from career counselors from my old school, and yeah thanks to god everything turned out well.
LA: How would you compare, being educated with liberal arts, how would you compare to the society that your parents grew up in, to the society here in America, and this is regarding gender roles, racial interactions, and such?
[00:42:42] DC: It’s very different. In Bogota, I guess it’s just as far as gender goes, yeah, it’s kind of been the same thing for a while. Even here in the states, women stay at home and men go out to work. It’s the same thing in Colombia. I guess it’s different, yeah, also gender, there is not much feminism over there as there is in the US. I feel like it was not an issue. It was an issue once, and it was addressed, but a lot of women are professionals over there. As far as race goes, I’ve never seen that in Colombia. Here in the US there have been racial tensions for a while, and injustice and racism and in Colombia not really. I guess a lot of people, yeah it’s really diverse there are blacks and people who are darker and people who are lighter. Colombia is a special country, because everybody is Colombian. And regardless of your race, people don’t tend to look at that. There are some stereotypes about darker Colombians, and from different cities and places. But as far as tension, here compared to Colombia, there is much more tension here.
LA: Do you feel you have been treated differently, have you ever had any racist remarks geared towards you?
[00:44:58] DC: In Miami, I never had any racism, well surprisingly, there is racism, but there is sort of tensions between African Americans and Hispanics. Not all of them, but there has been a lot of instances. They are very, its only in Miami, they are just a lot of racial tensions. Here not at all. In North Carolina, I was just surprised how African Americans were different here than in South Florida. As far as something happening to me that has been racist, maybe just playing around by some people, but I have never been discriminated against. One, because I don’t look—I look white and I speak Spanish fluently. There has been instances in North Carolina, where my mom, she looks as white as I do, and people have discriminated against her because her English has a strong accent. My dad is a little darker, so yeah he has been discriminated against. If people know that you have a strong accent or struggle with English, I can see how some people could be racist here in NC. Besides that, no, not with me.
LA: As we get ready to wrap up, are there any final comments you would like to share?
DC: Yeah for final thoughts or comments, I would just like to say that we should value sacrifice that people make. So my parents came to this country, my mother had a great job over there, my dad had a good job, and yeah, it’s just that my whole family is over there. For them, they made a huge sacrifice so that me and my sister could have a better life. It’s a sacrifice that I won’t ever forget. It’s the reason I’m at one of the best universities around now. I don’t think we should ever take anything for granted.
[00:47:59]: Thank you for those words of wisdom, Daniel. Once again, this is Luis Acosta with Daniel Correa in Carmichael 448, and it is March, February 26th, 2015 at 9: 58 PM.