The 2019 Global Engagement Colloquium 
1:30 – 4 p.m. 
March 27 
Main Hall, Room 333


When Mariela Sanabria ’19 prepared to study abroad in Spain, she knew she’d be reunited with family and that she’d be able to flex her Spanish.  

But she had no idea she’d face one of society’s favorite questions: Who are you?

Mari grew up in Broomfield, attended Catholic schools and followed her sister to Regis. Her parents are immigrants from El Salvador.

In Spain, when asked about her nationality, Mari responded “American,” then heard back, “Yes — but what else?”

But what else. 

Growing up, Mari didn’t feel the effects of race. She never felt like the token Latina even though her schools were primarily white. Her culture was her norm and no one made her feel like her norm stood out. 

Since coming to Regis, however, Mari has noticed her difference. Questions about racism and immigration penetrated classroom discussions. People would look to her for guidance. She felt like she was being forced to define herself. 

Was she American? Was she Latina? Was she Central American? Could she say she was Salvadoran? She experimented. Every day in Spain, Mari would decide what she was going to be. And for every identity, people would accept her answer — except when she identified as American.

She wondered what she was portraying to the world both intentionally and inadvertently, and if she even had the power to decide her own identity. 

“When I said I was American, people didn’t know how to box me,” she said. “People are scared by ambiguity.”  

This is what study abroad programs offer to (sometimes unsuspecting) students. It’s an experience in another place, yes, but a journey into the self as well. 

Mari competed at last year’s Global Engagement Colloquium with a presentation on the search for her identity. The exercise of compiling her speech helped her articulate and better internalize her journey. She was glad she could shed light on a topic that wasn’t discussed much. Her talk won the event. 

So, who is Mari now?

“I’m a Latin American person. I’m a hybrid — it changes by the day because I’m a little bit of everything and a little bit of nothing.”

Though she may not have a simple answer, this doesn’t bother Mari. She believes people are more alike than they are different, that our experiences and empathy connect us, and that the question “What are you?” should give way to the deeper, more revealing question: “Who are you?”

The 2019 Global Engagement Colloquium is 1:30 – 4 p.m., March 27 in Room 333 of Main Hall. The competition is open to any who would like to hear more extraordinary student stories like Mari’s.