Carola as a child

Meet Carola Suárez-Orozco!

What’s your name?

My full name is Carola Elisabeth Suárez-Orozco. My birth surname was Jacquet-Francillon—so not much simpler. As such, most just call me Carola.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I was born in Lausanne, Switzerland and immigrated to the Los Angeles area when I was five. My family moved around a lot (as do many immigrant families) and I ended up attending 9 different schools in the LA, Washington, D.C. and Northern California areas before settling in the San Francisco Bay area for 15 years (the place I have lived the longest). As an adult, besides the Bay area, I have lived in San Diego, Cambridge, New York, Los Angeles, and now Boston.

Can you share a little bit about your (or your family’s) immigration story?
Mine is a complicated one. My father was French but was born in Italy as his father was a custom official; he grew up Italy, Southern France, and the French speaking part of Switzerland. My mother’s father was German and her mother was Swiss-German; they met as young adult ballet dancers in New York City where my mother was born. Her parents divorced within a year of her birth and her mother returned to a small town outside of Geneva where she was raised. My parents immigrated to the U.S. because my father was an aviation enthusiast and there were more opportunities in his field in the United States in his field of interest. And, when I was just 17, I met the man who would soon become my husband of now over 47 years, who had just arrived escaping the Dirty War in Argentina. So, as you can see, immigration from early on played a significant role in my life.

What drew you to the Immigration Initiative at Harvard?
The possibility of focusing attention onto the fastest growing child population that are too often invisible in our society. I want to cultivate a vibrant community of researchers and practioners trained to carry out compassionate work that is grounded in evidence-based research. I also would like the IIH website to become a clearinghouse of resources for folks interested in understanding and better serving these young people.

What are you working on now that you are excited about?
There is an accumulating body of evidence that suggests that a healthy school climate enhances learning opportunities while a negative climate is a significant barrier to learning. How students feel within their schools has been linked to student aspirations, achievement, and healthy development. Qualitative evidence has revealed that schools vary immensely in the kinds of school climates they offer immigrant origin students and yet none of the current standardized measures of school climate are capturing this population. I am working with my team to develop strategies to capture intersectional experiences of school climate for immigrant students from varying backgrounds both to draw attention to this underserved population as well as to have pre- and post- measure to assess interventions.

What is your favorite film, memoire, or novel depicting the immigration experience for young people?
El Norte is a film that does an unflinchingly good job of capturing pre-migratory stress, the horrors of the journey, and the discombobulation of early adaptation and the role of relationships (both positive and negative) in that process. I love Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent for a series of short stories that depict various stages of immigration with a sense of humor. But there are so many more!

What is your “mommy” food—the food that you shared in your family growing up that you go to when you just want to feel good?
Cheese fondu, croute au champignon (a heap of wild mushrooms over great toasted bread), and of course fabulous dark chocolate!

What do you wish more people understood about the immigrant origin and youth experience?
First, that we (folks of immigrant origins) are everywhere and, as such, we are a fundamental and integral part of our new societies. Second, being from multiple origins means that we don’t fit neatly or effortlessly into one space (either our places of origin or our new homeland). That makes us great bridge makers across differences and perspectives.

What advice would you give to your 7th grade self?
It gets much better! You will find your people and space(s) of belonging. It just takes some time, some searching, and finding a meaningful role.

Nancy Palencia Ramirez