Julia Pagán Andréu knew that activism and politics were her calling from a young age

By: Elia Morelos '21, Latina/o/x Student Success Office Intern, 
November 26, 2018

Julia Pagán Andréu knew that activism and politics were her calling from a young age. Soon to have a sociology major under her belt, Julia hopes to lead change in her native island of Puerto Rico.

Julia is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, minoring in law and society, inequality studies, and Latino/a studies. After graduation, Julia plans to take a gap year before attending law school, where she intends to interweave her strong history of activism with her desire to protect basic human rights. During her gap year, she hopes to become involved in a governmental campaign in Puerto Rico, or in an upcoming U. S. presidential campaign.

Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Julia is a long way from where she grew up. Despite this, she now considers Cornell to be her home. She recalls being back in Puerto Rico for summer break and realizing that “the people that [she] really, really missed were the people at Cornell, not the people at home anymore.”

However, making a home out of Cornell did come with difficulties. Julia distinctly remembers the initial culture shock she faced at Cornell, ranging from who was in the classroom to how her identity played a role in the United States. When it came to her Latinx identity, she observed a palpable difference in the way she navigated her life in comparison to other Latinx students. During her first two years, which she calls her transitionary period, she felt that “there [was] a very stark difference between Latinx students who [came] from the US and international South American and Central American students.” As a Puerto Rican student who came from the island, Julia’s experience has been in line with “[being] none of the above, but both at the same time.” 

Her first encounter with the Latinx community at Cornell was through Sabor Latino and the Puerto Rican Students’ Association (PRSA). As a freshman, Julia thought of PRSA as more of a social organization, mostly meant for Puerto Rican students to meet other Puerto Rican students. However, after joining the executive board as secretary, she realized that while socialization is a big aspect of PRSA, there also came a responsibility to promote the political and cultural aspects of the organization. This, to her, is especially important considering the confusion on Cornell’s campus with “what Puerto Rico is and what [it] means to the US” after Hurricane María. Julia currently serves as the organization’s president and has made significant strides in educating Cornell’s campus about the importance of Puerto Rico, including a recent panel on sovereign debt and economic justice in Puerto Rico.

As a coordinator of events for ¡CULTURA! Ithaca, Julia has become a link between the Ithaca and Cornell communities and has also learned more about the experience of living in the United States as a Latinx. Growing up, Julia’s only knowledge of the Latinx presence in the US was based on the Puerto Rican and Cuban experiences, since they were the most salient to her. Living in Ithaca and working with organizations like ¡CULTURA! Ithaca allowed Julia to learn more about immigration and undocumented experience, “because a lot of the issues that surround the Ithacan-Latinx community are based on that,” she states. Since Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, the immigration process had previously felt like a foreign concept.

While Julia has admitted that balancing both activism and schoolwork can become challenging, her commitment to social justice has definitely enrichened her Cornell experience. Before becoming involved in these organizations, she found herself reluctant to participate in classroom discussions due to shyness. Now, she has recognized the value of letting her opinion be heard and has been able to give her input in class easily. Even her advice to her younger self – to not let the world stop in the face of challenge, but to “do something about it” – is rooted in using one’s voice to spark change. Julia’s involvement in Phi Sigma Pi, the National Honors Fraternity, and the Cornell Political Union demonstrate the way she connects her interests to her schoolwork.

Julia has also made sure to utilize her time to the best of her abilities. Since high school, Julia has been working in a Puerto Rican law firm that specializes in foreclosure. While she did not enjoy the moral dilemma the work presented, working in the firm energized her to enter the political world. During the summer, she worked with a senator in Puerto Rico, which paired her history of activism with the political influence of an elected office. She hopes to focus on housing and education law, since she believes “everything goes back to housing – the root of the problem.” She wants to make sure that tenants are protected and that these processes are fair to all kinds of people, so that no one must worry about not being able to retain their homes.

Julia has made significant strides, and she acknowledges how strong she’s become since graduating high school. When reflecting on her involvement in the community at Cornell, she acknowledges that “there’s always more we could be doing, but there’s also so much space we can take up, and so much we can do.” She hopes to take what she has learned at Cornell to continue educating about the injustices that occur to others on a daily basis.

Read about other Latina/o student experiences and successes at Cornell.

Julia Pagan profile