Norielis Botello

From growing up in the Dominican Republic to moving to Harlem to studying at the University of Michigan, Norielis Botello Cruz shares her journey with the Spanish language and how it has shaped her into the person she is today. Norielis is a third year triple majoring in International Studies with a Comparative Cultures and Identities concentration, Spanish, and AfroAmerican & African Studies.

Originally coming into college wanting an International Studies degree, Norielis took a Spanish for Heritage speakers class which opened her eyes to Spanish academia. She remembers her first day of Spanish class with Maria 'Coquis' Galvan-Santibanez, who immediately made her feel comfortable and heard.

“I speak a very specific type of Spanish, which in academia is considered ‘not good Spanish’,” Norielis said. “The Caribbean has a lot of African roots with slang, making it seem to some people as non-academic or ghetto Spanish.”

Norielis explained that during the class, if she translated a word “incorrectly” on an exam (using the Dominican version of the word) rather than reprimanding her for it, Coquis celebrated her diversity and still awarded points. The instructor even provided references to Norielis, allowing her to learn more about the difference between words.

Studying three different majors, Norielis finds significant overlap between her classes and content of learning. Over the years, she has taken Black Film in Latin America, Bilingualism in the Latin world, and many “mestizaje” classes – this mix of classes has given her a broader perspective to each of her majors individually.

“As a Caribbean person, to me it’s very important to learn more about collective history, not just Spanish-speaking Caribbean or the Dominican Republic,” Norielis said.

Norielis has made sure to take a variety of different DAAS courses including classes about African American history, African History and racial discrimination, which has helped not only her knowledge but also defined her blackness in different spaces.

Another of Norielis’ favorite classes she has taken through RLL was Language of Reggaeton with Teresa Satterfield. She loved that the class went into the roots of reggaeton, explaining its history and cultural subgenres.

Norielis strongly recommends the Spanish major to other students. For one, she highlights the fact that when you major in multiple areas (as opposed to minoring), you are allowed to “double dip,” which makes requirements easier. She would encourage future Spanish students to take a mix of conversational, writing, and linguistics classes.

“Knowing a second language allows accessibility,” Norielis said. “Me speaking Spanish has helped me in a lot of situations, not just where I need to be helped, but also where I can help other people.”

Another thing that Norielis loves about the Spanish language is the emotionality behind the words.

“The words are really strong in Spanish – I feel more passionate when I’m speaking,” Norielis said. “English to me is a very monotone language. When I was learning to speak, everything just sounded the same. You don’t really hear emotion unless you change your voice.”

Coming into Michigan, which is mostly English-speaking, Norielis’ parents feared that she would lose the Spanish she was so accustomed to living in Harlem. Now, she practices keeping her Spanish alive through speaking exclusively in Spanish with friends on a daily basis. She also studied abroad in Santiago de Compostela, living with a Spanish host family.

Outside of her studies, Norielis is part of Sigma Lambda Gamma, the only multicultural sorority on campus. Through this experience, she has gotten the chance to be around people who are different from her and learn from them.

Currently on-track to graduate a semester early, Norielis has been exploring the option of completing a masters in Transcultural Studies at U-M. In the future, Norielis wants to pursue government, diplomacy, or being a translator. She said her main goal in studying Spanish is to make sure she can articulate herself in her profession using her native language.