Sofia Velasquez is an alumna of the 2019 CLS Turkish program in Baku, Azerbaijan. She recently graduated from Portland State University, having majored in women’s studies and minored in communication studies. She now works for the Oregon State Bar, where she serves as a member of the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. She’s a passionate community organizer and plans to use her language skills as an international lawyer in the future. In her spare time, enjoys learning to cook foods from different cultures, reading, hiking, and spending time with friends and family.
Getting to Know Sofia
I was born in King City, California but raised in Palmdale and East LA. I come from a family of immigrants: my father is from in Cabañas, El Salvador and my mother is from Michoacán, Mexico. My cultures and traditions hold a big part of who I am and are in part what inspired me to apply to the Critical Language Scholarship Program.
I am very passionate about community organizing and, in the past, have been an active member of Causa (Oregon’s Immigrant Rights Organization), VOZ, Workers Rights Organization and IRCO Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization working towards creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment by building cross cultural relationships.
Part of my community outreach and organizing experience meant that I had the privilege of working with people from different cultures and diverse backgrounds. Although my mother language is Spanish, I was always eager to learn a different language. Working with refugees and immigrants meant more exposure to different languages. I began to study Arabic on my own and soon after began to fall in love with the Turkish language. There were very few people in my community who spoke Turkish and I began to realize how needed the language was yet how very few people spoke it.
Turkish is such a complex yet beautiful language to learn. To my surprise, there was a lot of commonality between my mother language (Spanish) and Turkish. It is a language full of passion, excitement and love. One of my favorite words in Turkish is the word “canim” which means “my dear.” It is said between people you love dearly and is usually paired with a name. My favorite memories include the word “canim.”
Unforgettable Host Family Bonds
My entire life changed the second I met my host family. I remember it like it was yesterday. My host mother is a very petite, fashionable woman who wore the most beautiful hijabs I had ever seen. The moment she met me, she took me into her arms and said “çok güzelsin” (“You are so beautiful”), pinching on my cheeks and then giving me one of the biggest hugs I had ever received. They were fascinated by me, my language and my culture because as they put it, I was the first Latina they had ever met. Food was our thing. We would spend hours in the kitchen exchanging recipes, dancing and drinking endless amounts of çai (tea). One night in particular, we sat down together as a family to watch the movie “Coco” we talked about Dia de Los Muertos and what it meant in my culture and I ended the night teaching them how to make tacos and the traditional salsas that my mother taught me to cook. I played the best hits of Vicente Fernandez and we danced the night away while eating tacos. I still hold a very close relationship with them and we continue to exchange recipes over the phone.
Sharing Cultural Connections
CLS influenced my life in many ways. One of the best takeaways was being able to see how beautifully we can work together to exchange recipes, stories and above everything, love. Through my story and background, people in my host country began to understand how diverse America is, which also helped to debunk negative stereotypes. As I returned home, many people were not familiar with Azerbaijan and I was able to share moments, stories and pictures of the beautiful country of Azerbaijan and its people.
Thoughts for Future CLS Participants
It is scary at first, but CLS will be one of the most beautiful and rewarding experience of your life.
April 30, 2020