We started our New Americans series Sunday with a Personal Journey about Ryan Koirala, a Bhutanese refugee who recently became a Clarkston police officer. We continue the series this week with stories about Sunidhi Ramesh, who was born in India but moved here when she was a toddler, and Christie Thuy Pham, a Vietnamese-American and senior at Georgia State University. Here, we feature German Botello, who was born in Atlanta to two Mexican immigrants.
German Botello was born at Grady Memorial Hospital to two Mexican immigrants. He was raised speaking both English and Spanish (but mostly Spanish) at home.
Now a senior at Georgia State University, he is the first in his family to attend a four-year university, and he’s felt the pressure to make the case that studying in college makes sense. He has become a go-to resource for helping his younger cousins and family members figure out how to make college work.
The AJC recently interviewed Botello as part of a video story project.
The following is an excerpt:
Q: There was a poignant experience you mentioned about racist comments while being on the track team. Can you talk about that?
A: I was the youngest captain for my high school cross-country team. I went on as a freshman and I was one of the best runners, and then sophomore year, I was made the captain. But a lot of people, as opposed to seeing me as this great runner, they saw me as another Mexican joke. They said – “What is a Mexican’s favorite sport? Cross country. Why is Mexico never in the Olympics? Because everyone who can run, jump and swim is already over here.” And it got to the point just to be socially accepted, I would actually laugh at the jokes or I partake in them or I would be like did you hear this other one too? Even though it hurt to say those jokes and I know it wasn’t helping me at all. But that’s just how it was in high school, and it is not until now that I am in college, that I feel comfortable with myself and in my skin, and with my language that now I correct people. I don’t get in arguments. I just see it as ignorance and as an opportunity for me to educate someone.
Q: At GSU, I could see you were definitely very connected and involved in the Hispanic community.
A: The world really comes to you at Georgia State. I was never criticized at Georgia State for being Hispanic. In fact, I was celebrated for it. I got a scholarship for being a Latino leader. And since then, I decided to dedicate my time at GSU to uplifting other Latinos. Freshman year, they started us off as Latino mentors for high schoolers — we would go to local high schools around Atlanta and mentor students about perusing college education — and after that, I decided to be a mentor for freshman students as a peer mentor. Junior year, I decided to go to Korea University. The faculty at Georgia State helped me to be able to go abroad.
Q: How do you feel immigrants are treated?
A: My parents have always kept me grounded. Ever since I was 4 years old, they always had me work in construction or working around the house. All my friends went to fall break, and I was always working in the family business. My parents would always say if you want something better, then pursue something better. Even now when I am a senior in college and I go and compete for the (Goizueta) Hispanic Heritage Month Case Competition (sponsored by) the Atlanta Hawks and I win second place with my team, I can go home and my parents will make me menudo (a spicy soup made with beef tripe) to celebrate, then they will put me right to work. They will say OK, “tenemeos que atender el rancho” — you have to chop wood, or make sure the cows are fed. (They live on a ranch.)
In a special series, four young adults share stories about their experiences as first-generation Americans, from the challenges they encountered growing up in the United States to the rewards they reaped blending their heritage with American culture. Go to www.myajc.com to read more and to see all four video stories.
AJC’s RE: Race seeks to foster a constructive, respectful conversation about race and ethnicity in Georgia. It may not be comfortable and you may not always agree. But the conversation is what’s important. Go to www.myajc.com/race to read more.