Maija Santistevan Cole will complete a double major in nursing and Spanish in August 2023. Her goal is to marry both the majors to make better health care for everybody. She lives and works in Culver with her dog, Pepi, and is proud of her mixed race and Hispanic heritage. Her twin brother is also in the health care field as an emergency medical technician.
Maija is a first-generation college student who has triumphed over adversity to complete her education. Her father arrived as a child from Jalisco, Mexico. The only son, he lost the support of his family when he moved to another state and married Maija’s mother, a white American. But hopes of naturalization were crushed: Maija’s mother suffered from mental illness and was no longer able to care for Maija or her brother when they were four years old. For three years, Maija and her family lived in limbo. At age seven, Maija’s father, without legal status or family support, felt that it was best to give up his children for adoption. At age ten, Maija and her brother were accepted into a forever family when her third-grade teacher agreed to be their mother. Her former teacher did her best to support their Hispanic heritage through Spanish children’s books.
Maija believes that IU South Bend has been a safe place to find an identity. According to Maija, she feels a definite sense of Latino identity on campus. We can share stories about family and losing connection to our heritage. What do we share and what don’t we share? We don’t have to hide. There’s a sense of understanding and it’s good. Though she says I feel like I’m almost not the right person to be giving this. In Encanto, we don’t talk about Bruno. And I’m Bruno’s kid, Maija enjoys participating in activities that showcase the diversity of Hispanic heritage.
Her willingness to embrace Latino diversity led her to an IU study abroad in Costa Rica in summer 2021. When asked about choosing that program instead of Mexico, she responded: I would like to reconnect [with my heritage] but to be a better nurse, I need to be able to serve across every aspect. I have language skills, I have an understanding of my background. We are all in it together. Learning about someone else’s way of life is just as important.
Maija shares these recommendations with current and future Latino students: You don’t have to have it all figured out. I didn’t. [College] empowered me to get to move forward and inspired me to make a change. Be kind, find kindness in other people. There are people there that will advocate for your interests. It’s a hard decision to make. It’s worth the risk. It really is, it’s worth the risk.