Roberto Clemente-Rosa | Photo by Soham Parikh | The Wright State Guardian
Roberto Clemente-Rosa has been a student at Wright State University since May 2015. He moved from the island of Puerto Rico, where he was born and raised.
There is a lot more to Clemente-Rosa rather than just his ethnicity. He is an engineering student, a student leader, a musician, a brother and a son.
“After the 2016 election, everything feels like a divide. I don’t align with any political party, but there’s always an underlying tense feeling in the air. I personally don’t feel that there’s a divide in campus within the students,” said Clemente-Rosa.
Through his involvement with Latinx, Asian and Native American Affairs (LANA), Clemente-Rosa has experienced the unity within cultural diversity on campus.
Clemente-Rosa’s parents were seeking opportunities for their two children, Roberto and his younger sister, when his mother and sister moved to Ohio with Roberto soon to follow.
“Economic issues plague the people on the island,” said Clemente-Rosa. “So my mom came out here to visit my uncle, looked at the state, looked at the city and decided to move.”
Clemente-Rosa was in Puerto Rico, but hours away from his father on the Northeast end of the island while in college.
“My mom and my sister were in Ohio and I was three and a half hours away from my dad, so we were all just spread out. I think it was more difficult for my dad because everybody moved from the house that we grew up in, so my he had the whole house to himself.”
Clemente-Rosa’s uncle was stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, which is what put Ohio on the map for the family.
“I honestly didn’t want to move to Ohio. I knew it was a state, and that’s all that I knew about Ohio,” said Clemente-Rosa. “I left Puerto Rico, and it was 86 degrees. I landed in Dayton and it was 19 degrees.”
His trip to Ohio was Clemente-Rosa’s first experience seeing snow.
“My mom was living in an apartment in Centerville at the time, and I fell asleep on the couch, I was looking out the sliding door into a big yard everybody shares. It was just green, then I fell asleep, and then like two or three in the morning I wake up and everything’s white. I stood up and I thought my heart sank. I was scared, it was like I woke up in a completely different place.”
After visiting for Christmas, talk of Clemente-Rosa moving to Ohio began.
“I’m lucky that I know that I had family here when I moved, I know other people that just moved by themselves, and they had no family, no support group, nobody to talk to or anything,” said Clemente-Rosa.
Wright State was the only university that offered Clemente-Rosa a scholarship.
“That was a done deal and why I came specifically to Wright State. They talked to me and helped me with the transferring and everything, they made it super easy,” said Clemente-Rosa.
Semesters at WSU are shorter than those in Puerto Rico.
“Over here the pace was super quick. The first two months, my right eye was twitching, and it’s just from getting everything acclimated,” said Clemente-Rosa.
He did Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) in Puerto Rico and moving to Ohio, he knew he would be next door to an Air Force base.
“Engineering got the best of me. I stopped ROTC six months before I moved here, because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to go to Maxwell, Tennessee to basic training and come back,” said Clemente-Rosa.
Clemente-Rosa is still trying to apply for the Air Force. He would still love to be involved with the Air Force whether it’s through contract or a company that works for them.
“I really just got complacent. Moving was a bit of a shocker adapting to the culture, the school, the people, the food, everything was a little bit much. Then the next semester, my grandfather passed away. After that semester I wasn’t the same, so I still want to work with the Air Force as a civilian, but I think I’ve missed my opportunity to be in there in uniform.”
Holidays in Ohio
“My first Christmas here was sort of depressing, because I can’t compare a Christmas over here to a Christmas in Puerto Rico,” said Clemente-Rosa.
According to Clemente-Rosa, Christmas in Puerto Rico starts the day after Thanksgiving and doesn’t end until two weeks into January.
“Over here at Christmas is the 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th and then you throw the Christmas tree out the door. It didn’t really feel like Christmas. I didn’t feel festive,” said Clemente-Rosa. “I can’t compare it to Christmas in Puerto Rico, and I know that’s me, because that’s how we celebrate back home. I know people still celebrate it here in other ways, but I didn’t like it. It felt like I skipped Christmas that year.”
The Puerto Rican American and Caribbean Association (PACO) does Christmas parties where members bring the food and music. Clemente-Rosa found solace in these sort of events.
“It makes it feel a lot more homey. it makes it feel a lot like we’re back in Puerto Rico, although it’s not the same, we know it but it’s our little piece of Puerto Rico. We’re over here, and it makes it feel a lot better,” said Clemente-Rosa.
After the holidays passed, spring semester began.
“We’re still in the cold. It was like a winter was never going to end,” said Clemente-Rosa.
Clemente-Rosa was working out and was training to enlist.
“I didn’t tell my mom till the day of, like an hour before I was going to meet a recruiter. I told her I’m enlisting, and we talked about it. She cried and begged me not to she said ‘we’ve made this change, we moved here, get your bachelor’s first, after you have your bachelor’s if you decide to enlist, then so be it. But you have a bachelor’s so you’re going to be an officer’ and I agreed.”
When everything changed
A few weeks later, his grandfather passed away.
“That’s where everything felt horrible, it was in the middle of the semester. I left for a week. I was grateful to have the office because I was in class when my dad texted me and he told me to get out of class and come home. My dad was a professor, he would never approve of me skipping class. For him to tell me to get out of class, I didn’t even know what to expect when I got home,” said Clemente-Rosa. “When he told me we lost them, I was just shocked. I really was numb until we arrived and were at the funeral home and they opened the casket. That’s where I lost it.”
Clemente-Rosa wasn’t the same after the loss of an important family member.
“I lost that semester. I was able to appeal some stuff and repeat some classes and move forward on my bachelor’s but from last semester on, I knew there was a shift in who I was as a person.”
Acclimating to different things has been a ride, according to Clemente-Rosa. He’s worked various jobs, such as bartending, landscaping, and retail, as well as on-campus opportunities.
“I feel that I am integrated completely, people may not know my name, but they know my face. They’ve seen me around campus and specifically in the engineering department. Several professors know me. Most of my colleagues know me around campus. People know who I am, they know me as a cheerful guy.”
The silver lining
LANA was there for Clemente-Rosa when he needed it the most.
“Now that I’ve gone through those hard changes, and I’ve become stronger as a person, I am now the support for those people, because I have students that are going through the same things that I went through,” said Clemente-Rosa.
He went from needing the hope of a group to becoming the hope and helping others in similar situations.
“I understand their changes and the things that they’re going to be dealing with. People, dealing with professors, dealing with the food, dealing with whatever it is, I already went through that. I know how you feel. Let me help you,” said Clemente-Rosa. “So what LANA means to me is that it was here for me and now I’m here for it.”
A divide from within
“I know that they that there’s a bureaucracy that we have to go through, but I feel like our bureaucracy is somehow difficult for us to jump through those hoops and for the other organizations, sometimes it does seem like they don’t have hoops to jump through,” said Clemente-Rosa.
Last year as president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Clemente-Rosa had a trip planned with private funding. Everything was going to be covered but the group was denied the trip.
“I’m not trying to call them racist or anything like that, but they made it a little difficult in having to deal with them and being denied things for no reason,” said Clemente-Rosa.
“That’s me as president of a student association where I have to deal with these administrators. As a student I’ve never had a problem,” said Clemente-Rosa. “I’m the one that goes to the professors’ office hours and sit down with them and talk to them and build relationships with them. I’m a nerd, I sit in front of the class and professors will know my face by the end of the first week.”