Remembering Where She Came From
U of I Junior Wants to Show Idaho’s Latinx Population Anything Is Possible
Junior Natalie Suaste wanted to be shown what Latinx students were capable of — by a Latinx leader. Despite growing up in Jerome, home to a large Latinx community, she couldn’t find what she was looking for and felt like she and those like her didn’t have the support system they needed.
She decided to attend University of Idaho so she could develop into the leader she didn’t have.
“Growing up in Jerome, I didn’t see those possibilities,” said Suaste, a double major in psychology and philosophy. “I didn’t see leaders in the community that looked like me. No one was encouraging us or helping us. Now I want to be the one to show younger people in my community what’s possible.”
Suaste learned about the importance of supporting her community from her family. She embraced service by volunteering at U of I. She believes her experiences are preparing her to be a person Latinx students can look up to in the Gem State.
Although she doesn’t dwell on it, Suaste remembers the exact day when she felt no one outside her home thought she would achieve much.
As an eighth grader, she was looking forward to hearing a presentation from the advisor of the Jerome High School speech team. The advisor was recruiting for the team, which was difficult to get into. Her older sister, Ariana Suaste ’21, was on the team and Suaste was excited to hear about her chance to join.
Except she didn’t get the opportunity that day.
At the time, Suaste was in an English class similar to an English as a second language class. When the speech team advisor asked the English teacher if those students wanted to listen to the presentation, the teacher declined, saying they probably wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t be interested.
“I think that class was seen as a special type of class and I felt like we were kind of labeled,” she said.
Suaste eventually made the speech team in high school, placing second in the state her sophomore year. But when she thinks about the fact that someone assumed she wouldn’t be capable of succeeding, it fuels her desire to make sure no one else in her community feels that way.
Suaste credits her parents with stressing the value of pursuing an education and remembering her community, even though they lacked much formal education themselves.
Her father emigrated from Mexico to California when he was 17. He planned to enter the priesthood and return to his home country. But he discovered that he was better able to support his family by staying in the U.S. and working and sending half of his paycheck home.
Suaste understood how important this idea was when she learned her uncle, an attorney, was able to attend law school because of her dad’s financial support.
“My father taught us to be leaders – to help your community,” she said. “He saw the difference he made for his family and never stopped working to support them.”
An important part of Suaste’s community experience was attending church as a family. It was there where she first heard about U of I’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). CAMP officials gave a presentation at church about how they assist qualifying students seeking to attend U of I with financial aid. They assured families their children will have a community on campus.
“We always say that we don’t only recruit the student, we recruit the whole family,” said Evelina Arevalos-Martinez, director of CAMP. “We connect with the parents bilingually and biculturally to assure them we will always be here for both the parents and the student.”
Natalie is a role model and a strong Latinx leader. She wants to lead by example because that’s the best way for her to motivate others to know they can do it too. Evelina Arevalos-Martinez, College Assistance Migrant Program director
As a first-generation college student, it was important for Suaste and her family to know she would have a strong support system on campus.
Once she made the transition to college, Suaste’s natural leadership qualities bloomed. She went from someone who received comfort and support to someone who helped provide it.
Being the Change
Since arriving on campus, Suaste continues to thrive in her campus community, ascending into leadership positions in CAMP and ASUI, being a College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences ambassador, receiving McNair and McClure Legislative scholarships, and being active in Kappa Delta Chi Sorority Inc., a non-traditional, Latina-founded program.
She regularly leads campus tours for visiting high school students and recently volunteered at the Day of the Dead celebration hosted by CAMP and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, where the Latinx community celebrates friends and family who have passed away.
“Natalie is a role model and a strong Latinx leader,” Arevalos-Martinez said. “She wants to lead by example because that’s the best way for her to motivate others to know they can do it too.”
Suaste came to U of I to learn how to become a leader for her community and she is excited about the future. She is thinking about applying for law school after she graduates because she would like to help Latinx families with immigration law. Wherever Suaste’s career path may lead her, her main passion remains the same — to let Latinx students in Idaho know that even if it feels like no one is supporting them, she is.
“A lot of minority members want to leave Idaho to find areas where there are more people like them and I understand that, but I also feel it’s important to stay,” she said. “Idaho needs someone to represent the Latinx community.”
Article by David Jackson, University Communications and Marketing.
Photos by University Visual Productions, Barbara R Photo and Katie Russell.
Published in December 2022.