Bi-Racial in America
by Lauren M. Williams
Rolando Sevina-Bustamante, 33, was born in Washington, D.C., the first native-born American in an immigrant family.
Like generations of immigrants before them, Sevina-Bustamante’s parents came to this country seeking a better life. “Living here—even if they were in the projects, it was better than where they were living back home,” said Sevina-Bustamante.
His mother, Maria Sevina, a native of Nicaragua, left her homeland in 1971 hoping to further her education and take advantage of the economic opportunities she had heard were available to anyone in America who was willing to work hard. His father, Victor Bustamante, left Martinique in the 1960s to attend school in France and then moved to the United States with similar aspirations.
Sevina and Bustamante met in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington in 1972. At the time, the Adams Morgan community was a hub for immigrants who found comfort among people from their native homelands while they tried to establish a place for themselves in America. Victor Bustamante found work as a master French cuisine chef working for several restaurants in the Georgetown neighborhood for over 20 years. Maria enrolled in school and later went to work for GEICO for 20 years, Sevina-Bustamante’s recalls.
As a child, he also remembers hearing a combination of Spanish and French spoken around the dinner table. His parents stressed the importance of learning the indigenous language and encouraged their son to speak, write and communicate in English, sending him to Oyster Bilingual Elementary School.
Sevina-Bustamante remembers how differently he was treated once he moved from the culturally diverse neighborhood of Adams Morgan to a more Americanized neighborhood as a child. He recalls kids treating him harshly and mocking the way he spoke, the way he dressed and the things he ate.
Now a clothing designer by trade, he says, “If I was born here to American parents, I don’t think the drive would be the same because I’ve seen struggle a little bit harder than most.”
Growing up, Sevina-Bustamante says his parents instilled in him the belief that, “America is the land of opportunity if you work hard and are dedicated.”
They also made sure that he was able to travel to Nicaragua annually to visit family there and see where his roots are. He has fond memories of playing with his cousins on the beach every year until his grandmother passed when he was 10.
Sevina-Bustamante remembers dirt floors and poor living conditions, but says people in Nicaragua are judged more by their character than by their professions or economic status.
“They focus more on your person,” he says. “If you’re an honest person, if you’re reliable, if you can do things with your hands. It feels like I was going back to basics.”
Only a small number of Nicaraguan immigrants live in D.C., but fortunately, his parents were connected to a big community of immigrants from other countries with large U.S. immigrant populations, including El Salvador and Guatemala. The result for him was a strong sense of home far from his native roots.
The 2010 Census found 54,749 Hispanic or Latino immigrants in Washington, D.C. or 9.1 percent of the overall immigrant population. The survey also shows 348,202 immigrants from Nicaragua specifically here in the United States, or .7 percent of the total Hispanic or Latino origin immigrants.
According to the “State of Latinos in the District of Columbia” study conducted by the District of Columbia, the Office of Latino Affairs, and the Urban Institute, agricultural workers and renters in urban areas tend to be undercounted in the Latino population.
There are three theories about why this occurs. First, survey respondents may choose not to report all members of multiple Latino families living in a single rented unit.
Second is the language barrier; some respondents may not understand questions or data-collection agencies are unable to effectively communicate with the immigrant population.
Finally, some immigrants may have a fear of interaction with government, especially for the undocumented population. It is true that the census is confidential, and that census workers are legally barred from providing information to government agencies, but many respondents may still fear disciplinary action like deportation.
Eleanor Fohnen, Policy Analyst for Migrant Policy Institute, says Central America during the 1970s saw a series of civil wars. Nicaragua in particular had its revolution in 1979, and those destructive forces led to massive immigration to the United States seen well into the 1990s, she said.
Fohnen also suggests the region’s susceptibility to hurricanes and other natural disasters contributes to a lack of economic development and leads to poor infrastructure that endangers societies living there. The CIA World Factbook reiterates that Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere due to widespread unemployment and poverty.
However, Sevina-Bustamante is very proud of his background and found being bilingual an advantage as he got older.
He took the childhood pain of being teased for what he would wear to school and launched his first clothing line, Bustamante Design Company, in 1999, producing custom hand-sewn jerseys and dress shirts. This was short lived as the “throwback” trend in urban culture died down, so he realized he needed to revamp.
In 2010, he created Superior Worx, a clothing line now available at national retailer Sports Zone. Drawing from his strong cultural identity, Sevina-Bustamante includes details in his designs such as his family name, a logo merging “X” and “V” to represent the year his mother was born in Roman numerals, or the “1763“ found on many items — the street address of the American home where he and his family lived. He says these details remind him to never forget his humble beginnings and take honor in his journey.
The visionary multi-cultural designer remains optimistic.
“If [my parents] could uproot themselves from what they’ve known all their lives to go somewhere else and actually make it, it makes me feel like I have no option, but to win,” he said.
How did I select this story?
I wanted to choose a story that I could also use for my Arts & Entertainment blog. I recently met a local designer at an event I was shooting in February and knew I wanted to learn more about his line. I wasn’t initially interested in his ethnic background, but as I talked to him I grew interested in his story, his struggle and ultimate desire to “win.” Every story I feature on my site usually leaves me with something that inspires me to keep chasing my dream and his unique experience with having the right examples around him, yet making poor decisions as a young adult, which led him back full-circle just encourages me to keep going despite setbacks as well.
Why did I choose to present it the way I did?
I enjoy shooting video and editing packages to tell a story. Photos are cool, but I think feel people get a better feel for subjects when they can hear their voice, see their mannerisms and gain insight in how this individual interacts with another person. I have a few images of his clothing, him and images representative of his cultural background.