Senior Renata Teodoro an Advocate for Immigration Policies, Access to Education
One current UMass Boston student and three alumni are among this year’s El Mundo Boston Latino 30 under 30 recipients. El Mundo Boston honored senior Renata Teodoro, Andrea Ornelas ’15, Jahdiel Perez ’14, and Juana Matías ’09 at an event last month.
The El Mundo Boston Latino 30 under 30 honors individuals making an impact on the Massachusetts Latino community in the areas of business, sports, community service, and fine arts. This is the first year the newspaper has compiled such a list. UMass Boston Today spoke to each of the UMass Boston honorees.
Renata Teodoro is a senior philosophy and public policy major who moved from Brazil to the United States when she was 6. After her second semester at UMass Boston, her family, including her older brother, were deported to Brazil.
“I was like, ‘I have to do something about this because this rhetoric is becoming toxic and it’s inaccurate and it criminalizes a whole section of people, including myself and my family,’” Teodoro said.
Teodoro started the Student Immigrant Club to provide support to immigrant students. She also helped establish United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, and fought for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which President Barack Obama instituted by executive action in 2012. About a year and a half ago, Teodoro and half dozen other students went to professors and Chancellor J. Keith Motley with suggestions on what could be changed at UMass Boston to make it more accessible to immigrant students.
“I have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allows you to work here but you’re not allowed to get any loans, federal financial aid, and state aid. That makes it really difficult to go to school here,” Teodoro said.
Teodoro was connected to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. She started working as a part-time program staff assistant last March, and a few weeks ago, the Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix Immigrant Achievers Scholarship, which gives preference to immigrant students, was announced. The scholarship is named after immigrant graduate students at Brown and Columbia Universities who fought for the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act before being killed in a car accident in 2011.
After graduation, Teodoro hopes to work for a nonprofit as an advocate for immigrants.
“I will keep working on this and keep fighting for this,” she said.
Andrea Ornelas works as a community organizer and leadership coach for ARC Leadership Associates. She graduated from UMass Boston in 2015 with a degree in Italian literature and minor in economics, and earned her master’s degree in international business management from Northeastern University in May.
“It wasn’t until I got to college that I really understood that I had a history. I had a history as a Mexican American. I was able to explore my identity as a Latino woman thanks to the Latino Studies Program,” Ornelas said.
While a student at UMass Boston, Ornelas served as assistant coordinator and then coordinator of Casa Latina; mentored, tutored, and developed a curriculum for Mayan students in English; did volunteer work in Guatemala and Puerto Rico through Beacon Voyages for Service; studied abroad in Italy and the Caribbean; and worked for Alumni Relations. The first Robert Hildreth Award recipient, through the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, Ornelas went to Mexico to study the effects of globalization on Mayan women, and then returned to Mexico to deliver the clothes she collected through a clothing drive.
Jahdiel Perez is pursuing his master of divinity at Harvard Divinity School after graduating from UMass Boston with a degree in philosophy in 2014. After taking part in the Latino Leadership Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School, Perez served as director of UMass Boston’s Latino Leadership Success Program, which was aimed at increasing retention rates, academic excellence, and campus leadership of Latino students. He also served as treasurer and then president of the Philosophy Club for three semesters and was in three different honor societies, despite admitting to being a poor student in high school. While in Guadalajara, Mexico, Perez came across a Spanish translation of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.
“I felt like whatever was going on this book looked a lot like my favorite game, which was chess. That instantly clicked something in me. My mind was awakened to this world of philosophy and theology, and that turned me on to school,” Perez said.
Juana Matías is the first Latina from Lawrence — and first Latina immigrant — to be elected as a state representative. Come January, Matías, who ran on the issues of education, criminal justice reform, and economic development, will be the only Latina in the Massachusetts State House. As an immigration attorney, she represented unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings in Boston Immigration Court.
“It’s kind of surreal – all of these things and all of these goals I’m really reaching. Anything is possible as long as you’re staying focused,” Matías said.
Matías moved to Lawrence from the Dominican Republic when she was 5. She graduated from UMass Boston in 2009 after double majoring in political science and criminal justice. At UMass Boston, she was involved in Casa Latina, did research for the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy on minorities integrated back into society after incarceration, and worked for the chancellor’s office. She was very involved in Undergraduate Student Government, serving in the Undergraduate Student Senate, serving as a Faculty Council representative, and then serving as president.
“I was always interested in public service and I think that was reaffirmed for me while I was student body president. I loved advocating on behalf of the student body. I just made sure I took the necessary steps to get there. I took advantage of all opportunities UMass Boston had to offer,” Matías said.
About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.