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A pathway to citizenship: Mateo Gomez's Story

By Isabel Pulgarin

We all have an idea of the American dream. Ever since his parents moved to Aventura from Medellín, Colombia when he was two, Barry graduate student Mateo Gomez has lived his version of this dream.

Mateo Gomez reading a book. Photo Credit to Jimmy Muniz Jr.

Growing up watching Dora the Explorer and Caso Cerrado, he collected an interesting blend of bi-cultural knowledge that turned him into who he is today. He speaks English and Spanish fluently without a hint of the other’s accent.

“From day one I had that normal ‘gringo’ accent,” Gomez joked. “My parents did not speak English, so they had to get me tutors.”

Mateo was 12 when his family became legal residents of the U.S. That was when he began growing into a true scholar. In the seventh grade, he fell in love with all things politics. He enjoyed his civic classes and won many awards, simulating courthouse activities.

“Miami is extremely Hispanic and my family is very Colombian. I just had the chance to be American but still be super Colombian at the same time. I was both and I knew that since day one,” he said.

His father was in hospitality and worked feverishly to give the family a better life.

“Hispanic parents that come over here, they keep on telling you things like, ‘Vinimos por ti...We came to this country for your future, not us, so take advantage of all of that’ and so that started being implanted in me,” he said.

Gomez went to Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High, became very involved in their law academy and started interning in the ninth grade with local judges. They were some of his first mentors within the political arena.

Photo Credit to Miami Herald

No one knew that only three years earlier, he had adjusted his immigration status to green cardholder. Why? He knew more about U.S. politics than most of his American-born peers.

He soon became the internship coordinator for the North Dade Justice Center in the 11th Judicial Circuit and by his senior year became president of the law academy.

With the inspiration of his favorite high school teacher, Gomez applied to Barry University as a political science major in the fall of 2016. By his next semester, President Donald Trump was being inaugurated. When it came to President Trump’s border wall, Gomez was very vocal in his frustration.

“Immigration reform has to happen but the wall was not the way to resolve things. People come here in search of the American dream. Jorge Ramos said it best... that’s not who we are. We are hard-working people. We came here for an opportunity,” he said.

Gomez stood out as a young person who cared about his country and was invited by his professor, Dr. Sean Foreman, to speak with producers and directors at the local PBS station, the day before the inauguration.

That encounter lit a passion in him. His interest spurred him on to pursue an additional major at Barry -- broadcast and emerging media.

He took his dual studies seriously enough to pursue his own connections in the South Florida media sphere.

His first encounter was in 2018 with broadcast royalty and Peruvian-American writer and journalist Jaime Bayly.

“I’m persistent, so I just showed up at the studio one day and was like, ‘I’m a broadcast major I want to learn.’ I would go to literally every single show, and he even offered me a job,” Gomez said mildly.

He turned down the job because he was only a sophomore but, from that apprenticeship, he moved on to gain even more connections in the broadcast world like Don Francisco, Jorge Ramos and the Miami Heat.

Mateo Gomez in the background. Photo Credit to Jimmy Muniz Jr.

After graduating in 2020, he decided to pursue an MBA with a specialization in marketing at Barry. He is even co-teaching a political communication class with Dr. Foreman.

“Teaching a class as my last major thing I do at Barry is pretty cool,” he said.

With a long history of hosting, mediating, networking, writing, and interviewing here at Barry, he is honored to teach a course he’s passionate about and merges two things he loves: politics and journalism.

While earning his master’s, he works as a bartender and for Basketball Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning at his foundation.

“I used to freak out over him because I’m a huge Heat fan, so for me it was ‘holy crap, its Alonzo Mourning. I went to the high school named after him’ and now he’s my boss... it’s all about networking,” he said.

From hosting a TEDx at Barry in February of 2020 to going head-to-head in a Town Hall with President Joe Biden a month before election day, Gomez is a young, South American migrant who has done a lot and will soon have three degrees, to boot.

In late 2018, he became a naturalized citizen.

“I have always felt like I was from the US... this time, though, it was like ok. Now I can feel that way and express it by doing things that Americans can do - like voting,” he said.

It is a milestone that he wishes other immigrant students could also experience.

Photo Credit to ConchoValleyHomepage.com

Legislation that would give temporary status, a work permit and protection from deportation to the undocumented is the hope for many who have contributed to the U.S. as Gomez has done. Yet, Congress has still not garnered enough bipartisan support for it.

Gomez believes that immigration reform will not come to pass until we get past the separation in Congress.

He believes the American dream still exists. People just need to find ways to stand out and get ahead, he said.

“Jorge Ramos sent me his book about being an immigrant during the Trump era. He told me something huge... to speak up. And that’s what I’ve been doing,” Gomez said.