From St. Olaf College’s founding by Norwegian immigrants to today’s “Dreamers,” the college’s commitment to immigrants from all nations is reinforced by its mission. In the most recent issue of St. Olaf Magazine, alumni and students share their personal immigration stories in the hope that Oles will continue to work alongside neighbors, friends, and strangers to welcome all voices and experiences to America. This is one story from that series.
Alexis Valeriano and his sister came to the United States from Mexico when they were six and five years old, respectively. They were brought across the border by others and reunited in California with their mother, who had left Mexico several years earlier. They moved to Northfield shortly thereafter to be closer to other relatives. Valeriano became a lawful permanent resident of the United States in 2015. He is studying political science and is active in Presente and SOMOS, student organizations that promote understanding and awareness of Latino culture.
“My mother came over first, to provide for us. I remember the day that she left; it was very sad. I remember the bright yellow taxi vividly.
“My sister and I stayed with my grandparents, and they took care of us. We lived in a rural town in Mexico, so I have memories of the farm and of drinking water out of the surface irrigation system. Also, eating cucumbers and walking barefoot and killing salamanders with my slingshot.
“We came to California in the middle of the school year when I was in first grade. Then I was held back a year because of my low understanding of English. We moved from place to place, and it was a struggle financially. My aunt was living in Northfield and she said the rent wasn’t as high and you could find jobs, so we moved here.
“It was hard adapting because at the time, my sister and I were two of the very few Latinos at school. I started to learn English better — as any kid, I picked it up fast. But it was still hard to make friends. Not only was there a language barrier, but there were racial and socioeconomic differences too.
“My mom applied for permanent residency through a visa program. It’s a slow process. We started the process when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and permanent residency was given to us when I was a senior in high school, just in time to apply for college.
“St. Olaf has really helped me financially. Also, it’s a great school. I can be near my family and help them out when I need to. I have more Latino friends, who I can be at home with and relate to. I’m grateful for the people who have led me to where I am and have pushed me to attend college. Being first generation, I really don’t have that push coming from my family, considering that they themselves haven’t gone through it. I’m very proud of my sister too, who’s attending Rochester Community and Technical College.
“Going through difficult times at home — both financially and emotionally — and through instances of discrimination has taught me to keep moving forward, because it always gets better. Lately I’ve been looking at activism and social justice work. I feel like that’s what I’m passionate about. I want to help people who have gone through the same experiences as I have. I want to use my degree to help vulnerable populations.”
“Going through difficult times at home and through instances of discrimination has taught me to keep moving forward, because it always gets better. Lately I’ve been looking at activism and social justice work. I want to help people who have gone through the same experiences as I have. I want to use my degree to help vulnerable populations.” — Alexis Valeriano ’19