Rebecca Constancia was raised on the northern coast of Puerto Rico in the municipality of Toa Baja—a place where she felt a sense of community, no matter where she went.
Though she’s hundreds of miles away from the Carribean island, the fourth-year psychology and premed student didn’t have to sacrifice that sense of community she was raised around—she found it at Case Western Reserve University.
“When I arrived at CWRU I liked the friendly environment and resources they offered in comparison to my other options,” Constancia noted. “The host I had for the overnight stay gave me an awesome experience, which led me to decide to commit to CWRU.”
Hispanic Heritage Month, to her, means celebrating her roots and the seemingly small details of her life as a Hispanic person—from the food to the music—and embracing every part of her identity.
“As someone who is mixed,” said Constancia, who’s mother is Puerto Rican and father is Salvadoran, “it is nice to be able to celebrate both of my heritages as a single experience that has shaped who I am.”
Life on the island
Just a few notes of salsa music and the aroma of arroz con habichuelas/gandules (rice with beans and/or peas) cooking on the stove can take Constancia back to her early years.
“[I] think one of the ways we are united as Puerto Ricans [is through food],” she explained. “There is almost never a moment where you are in need of a plate of food and there isn’t a neighbor or even a stranger that will offer that to you and vice versa.”
There’s nothing like the flavors of Puerto Rico, at least to Constancia—whether it’s churrasco (skirt steak) or mofongo (fried green plantains mashed with chicharrones)—especially if it was cooked by her mother or abuela.
“In food alone there is so much to say,” she said. “Almost every dish reminds me of my childhood.”
It was a childhood that was also filled with dance. Constancia was taught traditional dances, such as bomba and plena, as early as elementary school, and later on in high school, she learned how to dance salsa, merengue and bachata.
Constancia personally favored reggaeton music, but there was no escaping traditional tunes—her grandparents loved them, she’d hear them blasting in the supermarket, and, on the right occasion, she’d dance to them by herself.
“This all tied into the experience of living on the island,” she said. “One thing I miss the most is nature, the beaches and the hot humid weather. It might sound crazy that I miss the hot weather, but something about sweating and [being] constantly on the verge of a heat stroke makes the times it rains (which is sometimes often) so nice and so refreshing that makes the rest of the time worth it.”
Life at CWRU
At Case Western Reserve, she’s only added more facets to her identity. Constancia learned about the university through the fly-in diversity night program—and she never looked back.
The psychology major has appreciated learning about human interactions and what they mean—and now, she yearns to help people. Constancia grew up with many hardships, the most defining being her mother’s terminal multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
“Taking care of her made me want to help people who have emotional or psychological issues and to help people like me who struggled with issues that arise from having a sick parent,” she said.
Constancia has also explored her passions at the university doing service work and volunteering at blood drives, vaccine clinics, beach cleanups and dog shelters. She served previously as a Spartan Ambassador, and has enjoyed her time with La Alianza, the Muslim Student Association, The Sisterhood and the Archery Club.
After graduating, Constancia hopes to take a gap year and then continue on to medical school.