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Colombian-born, Nebraska grown student strives to prove immigrants have a place at UNL

Asael Arévalo González stands in front of Oldfather Hall at UNL
Asael Arévalo González is a senior music education major at UNL. (Photo by Sarah Parkin)

Due to stereotypical perceptions, Asael Arévalo González believes he still has to prove he is worthy of being a Husker. 

Arévalo González, a senior music education major at UNL, came with his family from Colombia to California when he was around three years old, but then found a home in Nebraska soon after. Growing up in Kearney, Arévalo González said people there made it clear that he was an immigrant and an outsider.

The last few years have created a new kind of tension surrounding the subject of immigration, but the subject has always been a taboo in rural areas of Nebraska.

“I grew up in a town in which I was definitely the minority,” Arévalo González said. “That really shaped a lot of who I was because it was made really clear to me from a really young age that I was different from a lot of the kids that I went to school with. Sometimes it affected me negatively.”

Although Arévalo González has had some negative experiences as an immigrant growing up in a community very different from Colombia, it is family that keeps him in the state. 

“My mother is here and my sister is here,” Arévalo González said. “A really important aspect of Latino culture is staying where your family is and being close to them.”

When Arévalo González chose to stay in Nebraska and attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, finances also played a large role in his decision to pursue a music education degree as a Husker. 

Arévalo González received the Susan Thompson Buffet scholarship. He acknowledged the stereotype that many racial minority students receive more financial aid than a white student, but he said it wasn’t his status as an immigrant that got him the scholarships. Instead, it was the experiences he went through as an immigrant in Nebraska that inspired him to put in the work for them. 

“It would be dumb to say that my background did not play a factor with the scholarships I received. That was something I talked about was the hardships I went through being a minority and being racially oppressed in Nebraska,” Arévalo González said. “The scholarships that I have, like the Susan Buffet, I still had to write five essays like everyone else. I did not get anything that I did not work for.”

Arévalo González said despite being a Nebraskan for almost two decades, his race is still brought up a lot, but he’s not the one bringing it up. 

“I know sometimes minority students get characterized as playing the race card, but the fact is I’m usually never the one to bring up my race or to bring up my minority status. It’s other people that put those stereotypes onto me,” Arévalo González said. 

Arévalo González also said not being a white Nebraskan made people cross personal boundaries with him. 

“People will ask me really personal questions about citizenship status or other questions that are way too personal for randoms on the street to be asking me,” Arévalo González said. 

Negative stereotypes of immigrants are a very hot topic today, especially under the new regulations of immigration being put in place by the current administration. Arévalo González can clearly see changes in his life since the 2016 election.  

“There was recently a mass shooting in which the perpetrator specifically said that he targeted Latinos because there seems to be a notion made that we are a problem or that we are causing problems,” Arévalo González said. “That is a big stereotype that we are here taking the spots of hard-working Americans. In actuality, we pay taxes and help the economy and do the jobs that white people don’t want to do.”

Even simple phone calls to his mother have changed in Arévalo González’s life. 

“It’s really sad that my mom has called me and said to be wary of my surroundings. If I give her a phone call and she doesn’t know if it’s just to talk about grades or life, she gets really concerned that something happened,” Arévalo González said. 

The false notion that immigrants are taking advantage of life in America is also evident in classes at UNL for Arévalo González. 

“I feel like myself and a lot of other minority students are having to prove why we deserve to be here,” Arévalo González said. “I feel like I have to prove my knowledge and skill set in my classes too. I have to prove that I am in college, not because of a box I checked about my race, but because of my GPA and essays I wrote and my music audition.”

Lauren McNeal, a senior at UNL who has been friends with Arévalo González since they were 14, witnessed the struggle he faced as a minority in the music world even in high school. 

“In high school, Asael was passed over a lot. It was either minorities in Kearney were treated as an outsider or a token,” McNeal said. “His music abilities weren’t recognized until his junior year when an outside panel put him in an all-state honor band.”

As far as the perceptions surrounding immigration at UNL, Arévalo González urges the university to value its students and realize what is going on in today’s society.

“I would just urge UNL to protect its students much more, because we’re at much more risk than they probably think we are,” he said. “All students are valuable and we have to acknowledge that some students are much more at risk to be discriminated against.”

I am a senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I also study global studies and political science. . I am particularly interested in human rights-based journalism and hope to pursue a career reporting human rights issues domestically and internationally. I am originally from Aberdeen, South Dakota