Hablando de herencias: Camila Urbina talks balancing her hyphenated identity

Student Government Attorney General Camila Urbina feels lucky to have been raised Venezuelan while growing up in the U.S. ORACLE PHOTO/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

Growing up as a first-generation American, home and school represented two different lives for Camila Urbina, Student Government (SG) attorney general and ​​Epilepsy Foundation of Florida president.

At home, Urbina’s Venezuelan lifestyle was normal. Even though she lived in Florida, she never saw anything unusual about her family values, the food she ate and the Spanish she spoke. She just assumed it was the same for everyone.

Urbina’s perspective on normalcy was thrown for a loop when she started elementary school. She said her inability to speak and understand English isolated her from her peers and hindered her from connecting with those around her.

“I remember on my first day of kindergarten, I was sitting down and [English] was like gibberish,” Urbina said. “I did not understand anything and I remember getting really frustrated because I was trying to understand it. But it was like ‘What is this?’”

The divide between her life at home and at school rang problematic from the start, according to Urbina. She said her efforts to assimilate into American school life caused her to lose Spanish fluency and only speak English at home.

Her switch in language left her parents frustrated and concerned about the future of Urbina’s engagement with their native culture, according to Urbina. As a result, she said her parents started to completely ignore her unless she attempted to speak Spanish.

“My parents obviously did not agree with [only speaking English] because I was losing their culture,” Urbina said. “That was really important for them, for me to have their culture. So they kept ignoring me and they were like ‘If you’re not speaking Spanish, I don’t understand you.’”

Having to float between being an American at school and a Venezuelan at home left Urbina flipping switches in her brain that would make her think and act a certain way. She said although she is a naturally extroverted person, going back and forth made her shut down and become more introverted when she didn’t understand what was going on.

“I just feel like, because I didn’t understand everything super well and I was just learning about the society and everything, I felt like I had to step back in order to grasp everything,” she said.

Urbina said now that she’s older, she’s rekindled her outgoing spirit and is more comfortable with speaking up for herself.

Juggling two identities with two different expectations was not easy growing up, according to Urbina. But she said she’s glad her parents encouraged her to relearn Spanish and retain her Venezuelan background as she grew up in the U.S.

Besides enjoying different food and being bilingual, Urbina said part of being a Venezuelan American is having the grit of staying on top of everything. Just like her mom, Urbina said it’s important for her to take care of her health and school work regardless of what’s going on in her life.

“For Venezuelans, the No. 1, no matter what circumstance you’re in, the one thing that’s always on the top of your list is your education. And the next is like after you’re educated, you do whatever you have to do [to ensure a better quality of life],” she said.

SGATO Director Gary Manka said Urbina’s positive attitude illuminates the SG office. From the start of the semester when they began working together, he said her humble approach to leadership makes her a pleasure to work with.

“Some people come in and think they have all the answers and they may not,” Manka said. “But she wasn’t afraid to try. [Urbina] is not afraid to critically look at facts and data and come to her own judgment on an issue.”

No matter what’s going on, Student Body Vice President Amy Pham said Urbina always has a smile on her face. And although Urbina may be everyone’s friend, Pham said she never lets her feelings about someone impact her decisions.

“We all have relationships, but when it comes down to resolving a conflict and mediating between two individuals, [Urbina] is going to be unbiased as possible,” Pham said. “She’s gonna take her personal feelings out of it. And I think that shows really strongly of her character and how important she views this role.”

Pham also said Urbina leaves her ego at the door when working with others. With so much going on with SG all the time, Urbina is never afraid to ask questions and clarify with others to ensure nothing is handled incorrectly, according to Pham.

With the challenges growing up, Urbina said it’s important to step outside of the comfort zone, even when it’s overwhelming. Although embracing new things or challenges can be intimidating, it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing, too, according to Urbina.

“I used to not be as open to new things just because of when I was younger, having so many new things in my face was overwhelming,” she said. “But I think, [for example] being in the Epilepsy Foundation, made learning new things and experiencing new things not be overwhelming, but be enjoyable.”