Getting Back to Their Colombian Roots

June 26, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

Getting Back to Their Colombian Roots

Thanks to the efforts of Professor Carmen Martínez-López, Deputy Chair of the BMCC business department, BMCC students are becoming regular visitors to the Colombian Consulate in midtown Manhattan.

“The General Consul, Dr. Elsa Cifuentes, invited me to work with her to start a pilot program, which in the future will be extended to other campuses at CUNY and to other universities in New York City,” said Martínez-López. “I saw this as an opportunity to serve my college and university community and to give back to society.”

That pilot program began with a meeting between Dr. Cifuentes and a group of BMCC students of Colombian descent, in Spring 2013.

“The Consul General explained the different cultural, educational, and artistic activities the Consulate could offer them,” says Martínez-López.

“We also brainstormed to create a name for the program to work with Colombian immigrant students at the higher education level. We defined the program as, ‘To return to your roots: the answer is Colombia’.”

The option of dual citizenship
José Tobon, a business administration major at BMCC, was among the first group of students to visit the consulate.

Tobon graduated from high school in Colombia, then moved to Queens in 2011. He works in a restaurant on weekends, and is planning to earn a bachelor’s degree in finance, eventually building a career in investment banking.

“I’m still very Colombian,” he says, “but a couple of us were born in the U.S. and barely speak Spanish. Colombia has the fastest-growing economy in South America. They were encouraging us to invest in Colombia, to go back there are tourists and feel proud about Colombia. We’re going to find more Colombians for the project.”

The Consulate, Tobon explains, “is also going to help us with the paperwork for dual citizenship. I can travel to Colombia now, but with dual citizenship, I can invest in Colombia.”

He adds that “through social media, the Consulate is trying to inform Colombians in New York about elections in Colombia, and to encourage them to get their paperwork together for dual citizenship so they can vote.”

Soon, he hopes that his connection with the Colombian embassy will enable him to network in New York City with corporations that do business in both New York City and Colombia.

Maria Montanez, who was among BMCC’s first communication studies graduates this past May, is headed for Brooklyn College where she’ll continue her studies, and wants to be a journalist.

“With dual citizenship,” she says, “I can develop my journalism career in both countries.”

Internships and professional opportunity
In addition to a focus on dual citizenship and connecting with a shared cultural heritage, says Professor Martínez-López, “the goals of the forums are to support and orient Colombian university students in issues related to academic performance; to offer information related to educational and professional opportunities, and to serve as a platform for networking and leadership among Colombian university students.”

At their last meeting, she adds, “Dr. Cifuentes informed the group that the General Consulate in New York, Colombian business, and not-for-profit organizations are available to offer internships to students performing in these forums.”

Subsequent forums will be held throughout the upcoming academic year.