Angelica Maria Melo was born in Colombia.
When Angelica was just six years-old, she had the unique responsibility of adjusting to a new country and learning the English language.
A little over a decade later, Angelica graduated from Elmont Memorial High School and was named the Class of 2011 Salutatorian.
She went on to pursue her college dreams at The George Washington University, in America’s capital, where Angelica earned her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts back in 2015.
Throughout this entire time, Angelica — and her family — were undocumented immigrants in America.
Now proud U.S. citizens, Angelica describes this moment for her family as “strange, but beautiful.”
“I’m finding it so difficult to explain,” Angelica confessed in our interview. “It’s like every year has culminated into this one moment. The moment that was spoken of years ago, while cleaning bathrooms, or houses, or painting, or figuring out how to pay for college ‘when we become citizens…’ [is finally here].”
We caught up with the Elmont grad via email not simply to learn more of her journey as an undocumented immigrant, but also to talk about Angelica’s rekindled love of art & illustration — a medium she uses to highlight the immigrant experience — as well as her own adventures and misadventures.
Please enjoy our interview:
Full name: Angelica Maria Melo
Schools attended & areas of study: The George Washington University, B. A. in Fine Arts, minor in Biological Anthropology and Human Anatomy
Year graduated from Elmont:
Tell us about “Kika Illustrations?”
I have always harbored a passion for drawing and making cards for friends and loved ones, but it had only just been a hobby. Once I decided that pursuing art as a career would be pursuing my dream, I created Kika Illustrations. Initially, it was to sell greeting cards, but then it became more of a platform through which I could share my art and maybe bring a little light into the days. For me Kika Illustrations is a space in which I can speak out and hopefully, one day inspire.
How would you describe your artwork or the world you seek to create with your art/illustrations?
With my art, I wish to give voice to the immigrant. I wish to create a world that understands that two cultures can exist within a body.
At the same time, I’d like to create an environment that is welcoming to the immigrant by creating art that speaks to their experience, celebrating the culture, the language, the struggles and the accomplishments.
In addition, my work with children has inspired me greatly, and I wish to write and illustrate bilingual children’s books with diverse and empowering characters.
In what ways has art & illustrating helped you to better shape your understanding of our world?
Illustrating the world around me has allowed me to be less fearful about sharing my opinions and the way that I see the world. It has also allowed me to appreciate the dark and the light, figuratively and literally. One of my favorite things to do is to take an uncomfortable or difficult situation, find one strand of humor in it and make it into a cartoon.
Describe Elmont in one sentence:
Elmont is a body of memories, culture, and inspiration that is constantly transforming and evolving.
Back in Elmont Memorial High School, did you have a passion for illustrating? If so, did you have any support?
While I was in High School, my interests lay more in Biology and illustrating was more of a hobby. I would doodle on the margins of my notes, or spend my lunch at the library working on a sketch just for fun.
If you had a time machine, what would you go back and say to your “younger self” in high school?
I would say “Hey, you’re right! Thank you.”
My younger self proved to be very wise. I recently received a letter I wrote my senior year to “My Future Self” and one of the things I wrote was “…but if you realized that your interest lies somewhere else that is FINE! As long as you are happy, you feel accomplished, and you are pursuing further education!”
Having changed career paths a year before graduating college (from the sciences to the arts), there has always been a shadow of doubt about having made the right decision. It’s nice to see that my younger self had an idea this would happen, and to be reminded of what is important.
The most challenging life experience you have faced?
Being an immigrant (and an undocumented immigrant) has been the most challenging life experience. My family and I could tell so many stories about the things we’ve had to do, –the jobs, the places we lived in and misadventures with the English language. Among financial struggles, and feeling limited in the things that I could dream of accomplishing, there is this feeling of not belonging here nor there that I’ve struggled with.
I think it stems from being an immigrant at a young age, growing up in the states, but growing up latina. Having these two cultures that sometimes clash, not within you, but in the outside world.
Not being able to do things because I was an immigrant — because I was undocumented — was also very challenging as it felt that it was something I could not control. It felt unfair when I was qualified in all other aspects. Nevertheless, I’m grateful and proud of this experience as it has prepared me for life, inspired, and shaped me into the person I am today.
What is one milestone you are most proud of today?
My family and I became US Citizens in 2016. I’m most proud of that because of the years that led to it. Most of my life in the United States has been spent waiting and dreaming for this moment when a door of possibilities would open.
I’m finding it so difficult to explain. It’s like every year has culminated into this one moment. The moment that was spoken of years ago, while cleaning bathrooms, or houses, or painting, or figuring out how to pay for college “when we become citizens..”
To finally be at this moment is strange but beautiful, it feels as if I’ve entered a new chapter in life; one in which I can vote, and have the same opportunities as everyone else.
Has any place, thing or experience in Elmont helped to inspire you creatively?
The view from my window inspires me every day. The window overlooks the cemetery and I get the privilege of witnessing the most beautiful sunsets.
The best advice you’ve ever gotten:
“don’t lose sight of your dreams”
We wish to thank Angelica for sharing her time & insight with us! Special thanks to Elmont alumna Alicia Munian (’11) for the heads-up as well. Keep connected to Angelica and Kika Illustrations here: kikaillustrations.com.
By Karl Valere for The Elmont Excelsior, Inc.
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