Renata Soto is Chair of the NCLR Board of Directors and the Executive Director of NCLR Affiliate Conexión Américas. In 2007, Renata became a U.S. Citizen. This summer at the NCLR Annual Conference, she shared what it means to her to be an American and her journey as a young woman starting a new life in the U.S.:
As the immigrant story goes, I began living in the hyphen: a bi-national existence—living here, visiting there—both physically and spiritually… a bi-cultural marriage, raising two bi-lingual children.
As time went by, no matter how much I loved my job and friends, and how engaged I became in the civic life of my adopted community, I was still from there and just a long-term resident here.
But this was my tipping point: After eight years in Nashville, my husband’s job took us to Knoxville in East Tennessee. We moved. And I felt uprooted. And it was then that I fully understood my deep connection and love for Nashville and its people. And for the first time I called a place— other than Costa Rica—home.
After three years in East Tennessee, I declared myself a Nashvillian and we made our way back to Music City. No hyphens this time. Instead: a comforting feeling of fluidity between my two worlds … not in the sense of a “quaint” multi-ethnic utopia. But more, an openness to fully claim and be all that I am: that I am from here and there; that I speak English during the day and dream in Spanish at night; that I cherish the homeland that gave me birth, and taught me to read and dance … as much as I cherish the adopted country that welcomed me, embraced me, and allowed me to reimagine and define a new self.
That’s the American story: one of new beginnings, of new possibilities, of new frontiers. Whether searching for freedom of religion, or freedom from slavery, or freedom from poverty, it is the story of a people searching, searching to become fully all who they are.
But as any human enterprise, America—the beautiful— is also imperfect and too many among us have yet to find and enjoy that promise. Like the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are integral members of our communities but are waiting to be recognized as such and no longer live an existence in the shadows as second-class citizens. This nation’s expansive laurels are not meant to be rested on. That’s why the collective work of Affiliates matters so much.
As insurmountable as the barriers and injustices we still have to take down appear, I’m inspired, and as I take the role of Board Chair of NCLR, I share with you my renewed understanding of and commitment to what, to me, it means to be an American, a Hispanic American: it’s a disposition, an attitude, a tenet, a duty to fight for and build a community where everyone belongs and everyone can become fully all who they are, empezando con nuestra propia comunidad.