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Student Highlight: Anissa Camacho

Anissa Camacho is a senior double majoring in Anthropology and Latin American and Latino Studies. After graduation she plans on attending graduate school to further her studies and hopes to continue her interests in community-based work. Anissa recently participated in a study abroad trip to Puerto Rico where, upon returning, she and other students worked together to revitalize the Union of Puerto Rican Students (UPRS) at UIC. Currently, she is the Vice President of the UPRS and is a Study Abroad ambassador.


Green, grassy background, with Anissa Camacho, wearing a white tank top and a yellow skirt, is sitting on a yellow swing. The strings of the swing are also yellow and decorated with green leaves.

1. Why did you choose to major/minor in Latin American and Latino Studies?

For me, it was actually more of a personal thing that I wanted to do. I think being Puerto Rican, a lot of the time you don’t get the chance to learn about your own culture. So, I felt that actually going to school and majoring in that, and having that hand-to-hand experience where I can learn from different literatures and engage with the community, and just talk and get associated with different people, tells me a lot about my identity. That was the main reason I wanted to major in LALS—to learn more about myself that I wasn’t aware of previously.

I really love the professors of LALS too. I’m actually a returning student; before UIC, I was going to school at UAS, the University of Alaska studying marine biology at the time. But I took some time off to start working, and once I started making money I felt like I didn’t need to go back to school. But, after talking to my associates at work, I decided to return to school two years ago. I’ve known a little bit about UIC: I know people who graduated from here and have taken classes with some LALS professors, like Dr. Ralph Cintron. I’ve heard many great things about the program and I knew I was going to learn what I need to know for my own personal growth. The Latin American and Latino Studies program at UIC felt like the perfect spot for me to be to learn as much as I can, especially since I’m from Chicago.


2. Why did you switch paths from Marine Biology to Anthropology and LALS?

I always loved animals and I always loved the ocean, both of which led me to really want to be a marine biologist. When I got to the University of Alaska (UAS), I fell in love with the native culture there. I was part of a Native group called Wooch Een, and they really made me appreciate how much love they had for themselves, their culture, their heritage, and it made me want to change my major to Anthropology. I’ve been interested in it ever since and made me want to have more pride and a better understanding for my own culture. I will always be appreciative and grateful for that experience: they’re still my family, my home away from home.


3. What are your plans after graduation?

As of right now, I’m a store manager for Mariano’s, and I know this isn’t what I want to do with my life; which is why I went back to school. I didn’t want my career to be like work to me anymore, I want to have fun with what I do and talk to different people. So, currently, I’m in the process of applying for graduate schools—I’ve been looking into a lot of different programs and places.

My goal as of right now is to get more experience, more so within the community so that I’m able to have my bearings to be ready to jump in there and be a part of anything within the community That’s really my main focus: community work. That’s what I enjoy doing here at Mariano’s with engaging the youth; community-work really is just my focus.

But, I have been thinking of attending graduate school for Anthropology, but I’m so in love with LALS that I’ve been looking into graduate programs in Latin American and Latino Studies. I’ve been mostly thinking about what I can do in both the field of Anthropology and Latin American and Latino Studies. But I do enjoy both fields for different reasons—I’m still talking to different people and trying to better understand what would be best for me.

I was originally planning to go for a master’s program, but it wasn’t until after my study abroad trip to Puerto Rico where I was able to talk to different people and meeting all these different scholars that I started considering PhD programs. It would really be a great accomplishment and I just love the idea of being a scholar—an idea of myself that I didn’t really have before until that study abroad experience.

Talking to these different scholars really inspired me to figure out what I want to do, have fun with it and love it, and then inspire others and share that knowledge. In the same way that we feel lost in a way or how we’re trying to find ourselves, we can be that bridge to help other people find themselves. I think that’s basically what I want to do, so hopefully I’m able to help people the same way I’ve been helped within the year and a half I’ve been at UIC.


4. You mention that you took part in the Study Abroad Program, could you talk more about it?

I actually found out about this study abroad experience through Marta. She happened to park next to me in the parking lot and she was telling me about the study abroad program and how I would be interested in it. After talking to her about it, I went through the whole interview process, not really knowing what to expect since I’ve never really done something like study abroad before. The overall experience was much deeper and immersive than I thought it was going to be. When people think about study abroad, you normally think of staying in a dorm room, going to classes, and then you have free time to just do whatever and explore when you’re not in class. This study abroad experience was nothing like that. We were up early in the morning, 7AM like clockwork, on the bus riding to a new place to meet with multiple scholars, politicians, mayors, farmers, etc. We would even have lunch or dinner with them. It was just such an immersive and welcoming experience—feeding us, talking to us, picking at our brains.

It was just so amazing. The experience really made me feel stronger about my own identity in a personal way. I’ve gone to Puerto Rico many times to visit family: my family would always go in the summer to see my grandparents and we would just hang out. When you’re at home, you mostly just stay at home and do stuff with your family, not really traveling around and exploring. Going to Puerto Rico as part of this study abroad experience allowed me to visit a town I’ve heard of, but never visited; I would have never known it was there.

I also made a lot of new friends on this trip, including the travel guides that we had and the other people we met. I think the entire experience really created this sense of community and love; it really taught me the importance of working together. I feel like sometimes we forget that it’s not just “I,” it’s “we” to the point that we become self-isolated. It’s about how we all impact each other and the intersecting of what we know—we’re succeeding together as a group. That’s something the study abroad process taught me. The students that were with me on this trip, we were all coming from different majors, and we all got along with one another perfectly fine. We were stuck together for three weeks—they’re honestly my new family now. It was something we accomplished together. And now that we’re back in Chicago, we came together and revitalized the Union of Puerto Rican Students at UIC—which was so amazing to me. Just the fact that we’re able to come together, have dinner together, vent to each other, laugh with one another, face different challenges—I see them as my family. I know they would be there for me just as I would be there for them.

Overall, that study abroad experience was genuinely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in a very long time, if not the best.


5. Is there an accomplishment that you’re particularly proud of?

I think my proudest accomplishment is coming together with the students from the study abroad trip and revitalizing the Union of Puerto Rican Students (UPRS) and the study abroad experience I had. Those two experiences, and just being asked to come back and talk to other students about the study abroad experience to hopefully convince them to try the experience for themselves is something that is so rewarding and amazing. I think it’s a big issue for a lot of people—study abroad—so it’s a struggle to get people to take that leap towards such a great experience. And I think it’s such an important process to undertake to better understand how we learn and interact with other people, how we adapt and want to learn more about different things that are happening in the world. But, I think we have certain hurdles that we need to cross to make the program more accessible to everybody. Being a study abroad ambassador, which is something I just started doing too, is something I really enjoy. I’ve been able to go to fairs and talk to different people, reach out to people, and just be able to help them figure out their next steps and find the right people for them to communicate with. It’s just spreading the word, really. I feel like a lot of people don’t really know where to start, or who to ask, and so being able to be that advocate, or that bridge, for someone to have that better opportunity is great.

And for the Union of Puerto Rican Students (UPRS), I know I haven’t met that many on campus, but I also know that many do want that sense of belonging. With the Union, it’s not just about wanting to find other Puerto Ricans, it’s about making people understand that you’re not alone, that you’re able to be a part of our family too. You’re able to get a better understanding of Puerto Rico too, since there’s so many different things happening there. Just through my study abroad experience, Puerto Rico can be a model for different things: it can be a model for issues of colorism, it can be a model for sustainability, it can be a model for politics, or biodiversity, climate change, etc. That small little island where many people think about Bad Bunny or a place to have a fun vacation, is a place that many don’t really understanding the things that are happening there—it’s those small things that we’re wanting to translate from our study abroad experience and bring it onto campus. How can people on campus have a better understanding of what’s going on in Puerto Rico, how can they contribute, how can we learn to work together despite all of our differences yet maintain that strong sense of self and community—these are the ideas that drive UPRS. I feel like a lot of people on campus are looking for that too, and with us revitalizing the Union, we’re able to do that.

Right now, we’re really trying to focus on the Pa’Lante Conference, which we’re planning to speak to the different issues we notice on campus. These issues that we as a organization try to touch on include the push for certain education, travel, and fundraising for hurricane relief—something we’re working on sooner rather than later. We’ve also been working with the Puerto Rican agenda, and the Cultural Center. We mostly just want to have a safe space for people to come together whether it’s for mental health, to study, communicate amongst each other, all of which will help us reach that end goal of wanting to bring that better understanding of Puerto Rico.


6. What do you enjoy doing outside of the classroom? Do you have any hobbies, interests, etc.?

I’m trying to do better with making time for myself, but generally I love cooking. I’m trying to do better with making time for myself, but generally I love cooking. I’m a big foodie, and I’m not that much into sweets, so I’m generally experimenting with different things and cooking for myself. I also love hiking and family time. I’m really into sports, but I don’t get to play as much anymore. As of right now, I mostly just work out as much as I can, but I really love MMA, boxing, and soccer. I was a big swimmer in high school, so I’ve always been into swimming and running—anything with track and field. Recently, I’ve gotten into rugby! I’ve been watching it a lot because my nephew loves rugby, so we watch it together.

Besides that, I really love film. My dad was always a film buff, and we would always go to film festivals, like the International Film Festival, and we would spend the day watching movies.


7. Do you have any book/movie/event recommendations you would like to share with students and faculty in the LALS program?

I recently just finished reading the Poet X by Elixabeth Acevedo, it’s like a young adult poetic narrative but it was awesome to read. If you get the chance to read it, I highly recommend it.

In the city, I recommend checking out the Gene Siskel Film Center, or the Music Box theatre. I love going to the movies—it’s one of my favorite pastimes. There’s also the Museum of Mexican Art, they have an amazing exhibit right now for the Day of the Dead.


8. Since you’re graduating this year, do you have any advice for prospective LALS students?

My biggest piece of advice is to just have fun and be involved in as much as you can. Obviously, don’t overwork yourself, but have fun with what you do. The more fun you have, the more engaged you’re going to be and just really take in everything UIC has to offer. UIC has so much to offer; if I wasn’t working full-time and being a student full-time, I would be everywhere. All the different opportunities for involvement really puts you out there and helps you gain all that experience that can only help you in the long run. Sometimes you end up missing out on all that the campus has to offer when you’re only going to class, and there’s so much you’re able to pick from when you’re engaged on campus. I really advise everyone to try new things and widen out your comfort zone to find, or even create that space and community.