LITTLE SILVER, NJ - Red Bank Regional (RBR) welcomed its students to its fifth Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Principal Risa Clay stated in English (with RBR junior Esperanza Minyety translating in Spanish), “Hispanics have had a profound and positive influence on our country through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work and service. They have enhanced and shaped our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect the multiethnic and multicultural customs of their community. We are proud to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and recognize the achievements of a culture that is prominently represented in our school and community.”
The celebration included performances by the schools Visual & Performing Arts (VPA) Academy students. VPA dance majors danced to Marc Anthony’s “Amigo” and Joe Arroyos’ “En Barranquilla Me Quedo.” Piano Major Andrew Hall serenaded his classmates with “Joropo.” The RBR band and orchestra were joined by vocal majors performing “Certo el Mar.” The RBR Chamber singers sang “La lluvia” and “Oye.” The event was organized by the school’s Multicultural Club under co-advisers Karina Tedeschi.and Ed Chang. The Multicultural Club also presented a program explaining DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy.” A fun highlight featured members of the RBR staff dancing to Marc Anthony’s “Vivir mi vida” in a light-hearted video created by the school’s Interactive media class.
Keynote Speaker, RBR alumna Monica Urena was invited back to the celebration she helped launch in 2013. Then she stood next to Principal Clay translating the welcome in Spanish stating, “Although we all come from many different places, the word Latino and its rich culture is what binds us together so we proudly state, “Yo soy Latino.”
Much has happened in Monica’s life since that day.
Monica Urena, 21, was born in Costa Rica and was brought to the United States by her parents when she was 10 years old. She registered for DACA in 2012 and graduated RBR in 2014 with the prestigious IB Diploma after taking the most challenging coursework RBR had to offer and fulfilling hours of community service. She graduated Brookdale with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and in English where she helped establish the Dreamers Plus Club. Simultaneously, she held down a full-time job at the Molly Pitcher Inn which led to a business internship in Manhattan. She was accepted into Rutger’s business school where she majors in supply-chain management with a concentration in global business. She returned home following an unsettling presidential election to organize a rally supporting her Hispanic community. In April, the Red Bank Council voted to designate Red Bank with “Welcoming and Inclusive status” for all immigrants.
Monica spoke of her success but also of her struggles and disappointments, telling the students, “Sometimes you just see the pretty picture,” adding, “I can’t say I am the same person now that I was one year ago.”
Monica summarized her high school years as “stressful.” She explained that she worked so hard to fulfill her dreams and the dreams of her parents, stating, “It is hard to be the child of immigrant parents, as they will not be able to accomplish the American dream, you become that dream. Although I am eternally grateful to my parents and all their sacrifice, which put me on this stage, that is a lot of pressure.”
So Monica worked hard to be the best and achieve the most in high school. When it came time to grab the brass ring-- attending a four-year college--she realized that no matter what scholarships she had earned or how hard she worked, she simply could not afford it. Financial aid is not available to the undocumented. Although she had the benefit of the Andrew Kroon Memorial Scholarship, she still had to work full-time to go to school full-time.
“As an immigrant, you have to work twice as hard to get half of what other people take for granted,” she explained.”
So she entered Brookdale deflated and angry. Then, in the beginning of her second year, the worst thing she could imagine occurred, when, for the first time in her life, she actually failed a class. She thought that no four-year school would ever accept her. But as silver linings often present themselves in stormy clouds, Monica realized that the networking she had done at her full-time job led her to an internship in Manhattan. And she became acquainted with other student leaders at Brookdale and helped create the Dreams Plus Club to help DACA students achieve their goals; she served as the club’s president.
For the first time,” She explained, “I was working for something outside of myself, and it was very important work.”
She was thrilled to be accepted to Rutger’s College, stating, “Sometimes they want to see what you have done rather than the courses you took.”
Her advice to her fellow students, “Take some time to just breathe. Things will work out. You don’t have to go to the “big” school. And stressing about things you can’t change is not going to help you. It may not be necessarily what you want it to be, but if you open your mind to possibilities it might be exactly what you want it to be.”