Alumna- Liana Montecinos
HOW DOES BEING LATINA AFFECT WHO YOU ARE?
It affects every moment of my existence, particularly during the current political climate in the U.S. I believe that our humanity should be our equalizer in the world. In other words, being human should be enough for one to be treated with dignity, equality and kindness. However, in our current political climate, this is not the case. We are witnessing immigrant children being caged and families being torn apart. This is cruel, unnecessary and ironic in a land built by immigrants. The anti-immigrant rhetoric is sickening.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LATINX STUDENTS?
Si se puede. I am living testimony of this. I was practically homeless at 15, in removal proceedings at 16 and with nothing but my fe, faith, to grab on to. Through my journey, I met amazing mentors that I consider “angels” who guided and supported me in every imaginable way, and who sometimes believed in me more than I believed in myself. Because life has kicked me down so many times and I have been able to lift myself up each time, I can tell Hispanic/Latino students that the fight ends when YOU want it to end. Nothing will be easy in life, but by taking ownership, you can make it manageable. Make a plan for your life with things that you are passionate about. Let that plan be your sculpture in life, and work on this craft relentlessly every day even if its little by little.
HOW DID BEING AN UNDOCUMENTED STUDENT AFFECT YOUR EDUCATION? HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU?
Despite being a resident of Virginia, because I was undocumented, I had to pay triple the tuition at Mason. I was neither eligible for FAFSA nor many scholarships because I was undocumented. I was also not authorized to work. And, on top of that, I was in removal proceedings. So, in order to pay this prohibitively cost for higher education, I applied to dozens of scholarship opportunities. I took no winter or spring breaks and during lunch, I went to the library to apply for scholarships.
I was very fortunate to receive a full ride to Mason through the Early Identification Program (EIP), of which I was part of since 7th grade. This scholarship, however, only covered my in-state tuition at Mason and the difference I had to pay was my full-ride times two. A private donor, whom I had the privilege to meet through EIP, paid for my tuition difference. Not everyone has a private donor willing to pay thousands for their education. I was very lucky.
WHAT MAKES YOU UNIQUE?
I think every person is unique. What makes my immigration story different is that I am one of the few who are very fortunate. Because I recognize my blessings and privilege, I have made a commitment to pay it forward. I have returned to help my hermanos and hermanas because I believe that their success is a success for our community. I want more Latinos(as) reaching their full potential academically and professionally. I hope that they also pay it forward to the most vulnerable in our community.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO MUSIC?
So I’m a transfer from University of Louisville. I was actually just freestyling in the locker room, and my teammates were like, “You’re good,” and I was like, “I’m not a rapper,” and then they pushed me to do a talent — like the ACC talent show in front of a thousand people. I just started freestyling…Then they paid for me to go to the studio and I met Bryson Tiller and bunch of famous engineers and it just took off from there and I taught myself the rest in the last two to three years.
DO YOU PLAY ANY SPORTS AT MASON, OR DID YOU?
The reason I’m here — I’m from Atlanta, Ga. — I got recruited here to play tennis. I’m one of the upperclassmen on the tennis team, and this is my last year here, and then I’ll keep playing some pro tournaments, some money tournaments and keep going after music on the side.
BETWEEN MUSIC AND SPORTS, WHICH ONE IS MORE PERSONAL TO YOU?
They both are. They’re both different journeys. Once you commit to anything in life, once you commit to a certain amount of — you have this dedication to it, it starts teaching you about life itself and yourself. Like tennis, I’ve lost, I’ve had really good matches, I’ve had really bad matches where I lose control, and it makes me have to be better as a person if I want to be better for my team. It reflects in my music and my music is an outlet that lets me let all of that out, you know what I mean? Like express myself in that way and it helps me too because I also learn more about myself in the studio and on the court.
WHAT’S YOUR PROCESS WHEN YOU’RE WRITING SONGS AND RECORDING SONGS? WHAT GOES INTO THAT?
I usually like to write when I first wake up or right before I’m going to sleep because one you start writing, everything just starts flowing. You don’t think anymore. All the words just start falling into place and everything. So, I used to write lyrics and put it on a beat, but now I listen for beats that I really like alone, and then I think of the verse harmonics. I start singing with it, put words and something that’s real there, and the rap verses just come off the hook. The rap verses are really natural. That’s the easy part but coming up with a good harmony and a good melody is definitely how I start.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST STRENGTH?
I honestly think it’s my ability to communicate and relate with people. With people that don’t know me I’m usually pretty nice, I like to think. I make people laugh and I try to talk to everybody even if I don’t know you. I think that would be it, just communication and my personable skills.
WHAT DO YOU TEACH AT MASON?
I teach Spanish 101 and 110 now. I can also teach Spanish 210, 200-level classes but mostly beginning Spanish.
WHY DO YOU LIKE TEACHING SPANISH AT MASON?
I love the schedule, I love the students, I enjoy that it’s my native language so because of that I think I am able to motivate students and [push] them to learn.
BESIDES TEACHING AT MASON, DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER JOBS?
Yes, I have a job as an interpreter for the Spanish-speaking families in the community for the public schools so I do that usually Tuesdays and Thursdays. I go to meetings at the schools and try to help the families communicate with the schools that pretty much what it is.
WHAT’S A HOBBY OF YOURS?
I love to read and I like to spend time with family, I have four children. I also like hiking, I like to walk my dog. And I’m interested in languages in general, so I want to improve my Italian.
WHERE HAVE YOU TRAVELED?
I have traveled, mainly, to Spain because I’m from Spain. Many places in Europe-France, Austria, Portugal, England, and [different places] in the United States. And also Honduras in Central America.
What was an important moment in your life?
Important moment in my life was when I gave birth to my children, my four children. That is probably my favorite moment in my life.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST STRENGTH?
I would say my strength is my kindness. I am kind to people. And also, I’m open and inclusive. I love diversity, I like so many different kinds of people and cultures.
WHAT IS A GOAL YOU HAVE?
I would love to be able to really motivate the students when I teach and make sure that they really enjoy [what they’re] learning and that they are not only focused on their grades and they really enjoy the learning and are there because they want to learn.
WHAT’S A QUALITY YOU LIKE YOUR STUDENTS TO HAVE?
I like for them to be creative and to to try to enjoy the classroom atmosphere. To not be tense in class, and be willing to learn and enjoy the learning experience.
Student Organization-Chase Dreams not Boys(CDNB)
WHAT IS (CDNB)?
Alice Jordan, events coordinator: Chase Dreams Not Boys is an organization run by women. We basically empower minority women on-campus, and try to inspire and make sure everybody is feeling comfortable.
Natasha Whyte, treasurer- “And create a sense of community. We also reach out to local girls and mentor them[,] and help them see their dreams as well. Last year we did a collaboration with girl scouts at the end of the semester and that was great, we made dream boards with them.
Alice Jordan: Also kind of focusing on freshman, making sure they’re comfortable and getting acclimated to the campus. So we do girl talks every month or so where we cater those to the freshman and make sure they have the resources they need.
HOW DID YOU GUYS GET INVOLVED WITH CDNB?
Alice Jordan: Last year at the interest meeting they mentioned they were looking for interns so I stayed after and talked to one of the presidents about it and I put my name down. So then we had a whole interview session, and I found out like a couple days later I was the event’s coordinator intern, so that’s how I became involved in this organization.
Faryn Fairweather, secretary: Same thing with me. I went to the meeting last year and really enjoyed everything and everybody and I stayed after and wanted to get involved more and they told be they had the intern position open as well and I interviewed and they contacted me back about becoming the fundraising chair last year.
Natasha Whyte: And I was one of the people interviewing them. I actually started with Chase Dreams my sophomore year. I went to one of the meetings and I was a regular and then at the end of my sophomore year I interviewed for the secretary position, so I was secretary last year and now I’m the treasurer.”
WHAT OTHER EVENTS DOES CDNB DO?
Whyte: So we do de-stress events, especially around finals where we just get the girls together and give everyone a change to relax, because it can get intense especially for freshman girls, and then we also do more informative events like the black box series and Inside the Locker Room, which are more geared toward gender and sexuality and how to find yourself on a college campus. We do the black box series, which is like a discussion whereas Inside the Locker Room is sort of a panel style, where different people from minority groups are represented and discuss gender and sexuality on-campus.