Camila Romero is a fashion designer and co-founder of the clothing brand DeadBlud.
She came to America from Colombia on asylum and is a DACA recipient.
Romero shared her story of learning to embrace her heritage and finding her voice with Insider journalist Yoonji Han.
Camila Romero is a beneficiary of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy introduced by the Obama administration in 2012 that grants relief from deportation to over 600,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
The Colombian American fashion designer and creative is the co-founder of DeadBlud, a sustainable clothing label based in Los Angeles. In 2021, she was a contestant on "The Hype," an HBO Max competition series featuring streetwear designers.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Romero. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I'm from a small city called Monteria in Colombia, and moved to California with my family when I was seven in 2000. I've been part of the Dream Act since I started school and decided to go to college.
We came here on asylum: There were guerilla groups that extorted people left and right, and they targeted my family because my grandfather owned a cotton cultivation farm. My dad started getting threats, like they'd kidnap me.
My mom, who traveled back and forth from the US as a singer in La Sonora Dinamita, decided to come and get me and my dad. It was no longer a safe environment for me to grow up out there.
Trying to fit in
Thinking back to when I first came to America, I just remember being so out of the loop in school because I didn't know any English — my first language is Spanish. It was hard for me to adapt to being in an all-English school at first. I had to be taken out of regular class to take ESL classes, where they would explain everything I'd been learning in school in Spanish so I could keep up.
I really tried to fit in with Americans. That's probably why it was easy for me to adopt English pretty quickly. It came from a fear of not fitting in, and wanting to fit in so badly that I completely adapted to my surroundings and threw myself headfirst into American culture without looking back.
I joined school activities like volleyball, and became obsessed with Hannah Montana, anything on Disney Channel, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera — all the 2000s pop culture, which is still a huge part of inspiration for me today.
But I lost touch with my Colombian background. I didn't care about it at all. In my high school, which was predominantly white, I tried to suppress my heritage. I only spoke Spanish with my family. At school, I was called a "beaner" even though I'm not Mexican. People made fun of the fact that my parents couldn't speak English. I felt like I didn't have a voice back then.
Re-rooted in my culture
It wasn't until college, away from the pressure of needing to fit in, that I started coming into who I am. I began to understand the power to create who I wanted to be, and I'm now so proud of being a brown girl.
College is also where I started my journey into the fashion industry. I always loved expressing myself in fashion. As a kid, I got a lot of my fashion sense from Rebelde, a teenage Spanish soap opera. I loved how they dressed: mini skirts with bell-bottom leggings underneath, crop tops, hair fluffed up in the 90s way. I put different hair extensions so I'd have different-colored hair. It all stems from being inspired by my idols and media.
I started modeling in college and going to music festivals like Burning Man. It gave me the freedom to go all out and not be judged. I felt empowered to create my own style and find my voice. In 2020, I started my own clothing business, DeadBlud.
My culture influences a lot of my style. In Colombia, everyone is so free-spirited and open with each other — it's very different from here. That's something I wanted to integrate into my brand, whether it's a subtle piece that you can wear on a day-to-day basis, or a glamorous outfit that can take you to the red carpet.
Finding my voice for Dreamers
Growing up, I never had someone I could look up to and relate to. I want to become that person by sharing my story. Being a Dreamer is not something that I had a choice about, but my background was something I grew up being so ashamed of. I want to be that voice for people.
I'm an artist, and being a creative comes with the responsibility of being an influence to others in a positive way. I hope someone can relate to me like, "She's cool, she doesn't care about what people think. She speaks her truth." I just want to show everyone that you can, and you will be able to, as long as you dream.
I haven't been able to go back to Colombia because of visa reasons, but I'm in the process of getting my documents settled for a visit. It's going to have a huge impact on my life. I can't wait to indulge in my culture.
My message to all the Dreamers is to not let your legal status define who you are in this country. Your parents sacrificed so much to bring you here. There are so many different outlets and organizations you can reach out to and get advice from — keep reaching for your dreams.
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