“[The] first time I walked by myself, I felt something that I have never felt before.”
Junior Pablo Lira, who is originally from Chile, moved to the United States in the summer of 2014. Moving has always been part of his life because of his father’s diplomatic career. So far, Lira has lived in Chile, Peru, and Ecuador.
“Chile is a very unique country,” he tells me. “If you look at the map, Chile reaches different climates and geographical places, so it has a lot of cultures that accompany that diversity.I f you go to the very north, you will find the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert, while if you go to south, the weather is too cold and days can sometimes be only 2 hours long.”
He says Chile’s culture is enriched by the different and deeply rooted cultures that exist within its borders. But Lira describes entrenched divisions between social classes as the most negative aspect of his country. “You are pretty much born into a social class with almost no social mobility,” he says.
Lira was only two years old when his family moved to Peru, so he does not remember much about his life back in Lima, the country’s capital. However, he speaks highly of his experience in Ecuador, where he moved at age 11. Lira says Ecuador is an “extremely beautiful country” with very outgoing and warm people. Even though it did not affect him, the restriction on freedom of speech was the only thing he disliked about Ecuador because it made the country “undemocratic.”
Now living in DC, Lira enjoys the freedom here, but not the “type of freedom many Americans might think of, like democracy,” he says. Instead, he is referring to the freedom to get around on his own. In cities like Lima and Quito, he and his family were restricted to where and how they could get around the city, generally because those were considered a very dangerous cities. “Sometimes I even needed a bodyguard to go out in Lima because we received death threats when we arrived” he says.
But it was a different story when he moved to DC. “Now I could go anywhere I wanted,” he says.
However, his perspective on America isn’t all positive. Even though he admires the way democracy works inside of the U.S., he does not believe that the U.S. has a very “democratic presence” outside of its borders. “[The] U.S.’s military power gives them a leverage to manipulate other countries in a very totalitarian way,” he explains.
Attending Wilson was Lira’s first experience in a public school. He admits that he was scared at first by the idea of going to a public school, but he changed his opinion when he saw how big the school was. “I realized that everything I need to become successful is provided here,” he says.
Before Wilson, Lira used to attend private schools where, in his opinion, “everybody was very similar.” At Wilson he met people of different backgrounds and people that he would have never been exposed to before. He says he has learned many lessons from the social aspect of Wilson, which he finds valuable. He elaborates, saying, “[I have] learned not to judge people until you really know them, and also people with different ways of thinking simply had different views and standards for everything, but at Wilson I learned that although that is true for a lot of things, there are also some things that should be accepted across the entire population.”
Self-segregation is the only thing that “saddens” him about Wilson. He explains that it is really “ironic” how closely related the negative and positives aspects of Wilson are. This struck him last year at the “SGA Blackout Dance” when he saw “white people on one side of the dance floor and black people on the other.” Lira finds self-segregation to be a very sensitive issue which goes beyond the administration and requires a “collective effort” of everybody at Wilson in order to be addressed.
Moving has always been challenging for Lira. Having already moved four times, he understands the difficulties of “leaving everybody you know behind and starting all over.”
Since he’s lived in such different places, he says he’s seen the “extent of poverty and people’s struggles at life in many of the third world countries.” He can see himself becoming a diplomat, although part of him wants to break the three-generation streak of diplomats in his family.
Lira is debating whether to stay or leave the U.S. “I will leave if I have to but I would rather stay here to go to college,” he says. Hs ideal school to graduate from is Boston University.
Lira says the most valuable lesson he has learned through his international experiences is to “keep an open mind and listen to everyone whether you agree or disagree with them, because they probably have a very good reason for what they do, how they think and how they live, that one might not be aware of.” •