Photo Column

Photo by Jose Leiva, Interview by Linda Leiva

Uriel Gonzalez, 20, dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen.

A member of the Class of 2011 at Bates College in Lewiston, he was born in Piedras Negras Coahuila, a city in Mexico that borders Eagle Pass, Texas. At the age of 2, he and his family moved to Florida and when he was 6 they moved to San Antonio, Texas. His parents were poor, and his mother, Elodia, worked caring for elderly people. She encouraged him to get a good education, he said.

“She made me who I am,” he said. “She was the sole provider and was working hard and not at home until nighttime … I have learned to work hard.”

He pays his own expenses at Bates, where, in addition to his double major in Russian Studies and Fine Arts, Drawing and Photography, he works at The Olin Arts Center front desk, at Lane Hall in the Advancement Center and at the Museum of Art.

His decision to major in Russian studies came about from an experience in junior high in San Antonio. He chose then to study Japanese but instead was placed in a Russian language class. He eventually earned a gold medal in a statewide Russian language competition.

“The prize for the highest score was a three-week trip to Russia,” and “in my senior year I won the trip. I went to Vladimir, 300 kilometers east of Moscow for four or five days.”

Since then, he’s been to Panama to document the Black Christ Festival. He has also interned at Southwest Workers Union to raise the minimum wage of workers and worked in the environmental justice section. Recently, as part of the Russian Studies program, he spent a semester in St. Petersburg, Russia studying the art and architecture in that ancient city. During the trip, a benefit of his unusual linguistic background became evident when he helped a couple from Spain negotiate payment at the Russian hotel. “It was a perfect moment in time, “ Gonzales affirms.

After graduation, he hopes to use his language skills in some form of government work, teaching, translating, architecture or documentary photography, he said.

And he’s still hoping to realize his dream of U.S. citizenship, he said, which has been fraught with difficulty and more financial hardship for his family. The $600 cost is unaffordable, he said, considering his college expenses.

But the young man who became a resident alien at the age of 14 has come a long way with hard work, proving that much is possible.