By Jordan Miller

Salty and buttery, the smell of rice and vegetables fills the smoky air.

Her long, straight black hair is folded-over into a bun perched at the crown of her head, bouncing as she stirs the pot on the stove. She has AirPods in while she cooks, listening to something, but then she turns to me.

“I’m gonna call my mom real quick and let her know I’m okay,” she said, walking out to the porch.

I nod and finish the meal I was already eating in the living room, keeping an eye on the stove as steam rushes from the pot’s lid. The vegetables crackle in the pot, the smell turning stale and sharp as they continue to cook.

She finally comes back inside, cursing as she enters the kitchen. The meal is burned.

After salvaging what she can for her dinner, she comes back and sits down on the couch next to me, tucking her sporty-yet-comfortable sweatpant-clad legs underneath her.
_________

Angela Castaneda has been a loner for most of her life. A Tulsa native, she stayed in the area and maintained a close relationship with her family, attending Tulsa Community College for her freshman year before transferring to OU – her first time ‘leaving the nest.’

“Can you tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like? I know you mentioned English was your first language, so I wanted to get a little bit about your background first before I ask about like some stuff nowadays,” I asked her.

“Growing up was a bit difficult,” she said. “Because I didn’t really have friends during like Elementary, and it was bit tough making friends because obviously as I mentioned before, English wasn’t my first language. I did speak Spanish throughout most of elementary, and I almost got held back because of it too. And I guess that contributed to like my loneliness, so I was really lonely, wasn’t really out there. I really couldn’t be out there.”

“So you’re mostly hanging out with your family and stuff?” I asked. “Whenever you grew up, was it mostly just because your family spoke Spanish around you that you learned it? And did you mostly grow up here or did you guys go where your parents are from to visit the rest of your family?”

“It was whenever I turned 14 that’s when we actually started going out of the country, back to El Salvador,” she said. “But other than that we’re very close – my parents, my brothers. But I know for a fact that my little brother and my older brother don’t speak as much Spanish as I do. So that made it a bit easier for them to talk to me instead of them.”

“Why do you think that is (that they don’t speak as much Spanish?)”

She looks up and clasps her hands, thinking for a minute before she answers.

“I like to think my younger brother is more Americanized,” she said. “He wasn’t raised to think that he’s like, full-on Salvadoran. Meanwhile, my older brother and I were raised that way. But my older brother didn’t really catch on to Spanish, he caught on more to English rather than Spanish.”

“So I know you transferred from from TCC, right?” I asked. “So can you tell me a little bit about deciding to go to TCC and then transferring to OU? Like whenever you went through high school, did you just want to stay home for a year with your family? And then figure it out?”

“Uh, no – I actually wanted to come to OU, but my dad wouldn’t let me,” she said with a slight laugh. “So I was forced to stay there, not because I wanted to be there.”

“Oh okay. So how did you end up at OU – did you just stay there for a year and then your dad was like ‘OK, I guess you can go now.’?”

“No, I made a deal with him, actually,” she said. “The deal was I’d stay there for two years. But since I got ahead, and was technically in my second year, I used that to my advantage. And I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to the school that I wanted to. And you can’t do anything to stop me, I already said yes.’ And that’s how I got here.”

Her journey to OU was part of seeking that community she longed for – the first time she experienced the university, she felt like she could fit in.

“So why did you pick OU over like OSU? Or an out of state school? What made OU stand out to you?” I ask.

“I’ve been to OSU before, and I didn’t really feel like I’d be myself there,” she said. “Meanwhile, whenever I came to OU, I was in my senior year, we went with my women’s basketball team. And we came to watch the women’s basketball game. And I guess that’s where I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I can really see myself being here and not feel awkward about it.’ And so that helped me with my decision.”

On her own now, she likes being more independent – but she still needs to be around her family, and goes home to Tulsa often.

“What have you liked and not liked about it? Just kind of the experience of leaving home and starting out on your own?”

“I’ve liked being on my own,” she said. “But at the same time, I don’t, because I’m, I’m very reliant on to my parents, I always need to be around them. And so just doing this, it’s crazy for me to even imagine it…but it’s just (an) experience.”

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