Canceled flights and heightened fears: AU international students reflect on Capitol insurrection
“Is this a sign that I shouldn't go back?”
Gabriela Valencia, a junior in the School of Public Affairs from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was at her Tenleytown apartment on Jan. 6 when she turned on the news to learn about the Capitol insurrection taking place only eight miles away.
Valencia always viewed the United States as a free and powerful country with an organized government. However, what she witnessed reminded Valencia of something that would occur back home in Honduras, she said.
“I would have never imagined something like that happening in the U.S.,” Valencia said. “I would expect that to happen in Honduras because people don’t care. It was just shocking. I would have never thought it was going to happen in the States.”
Valencia said that violent protests against the government are a normal occurrence in Honduras.
“It has happened several times — people storming in, and even the same congressmen fighting each other and throwing stuff at each other, causing a circus inside the Capitol building,” Valencia said. “It’s a normal day.”
While Valencia was in D.C. during the insurrection, other international students watched from overseas in fear of returning to the United States.
Camilla Salemme, a senior in Kogod from Milan, Italy, canceled her flight back to the District in January after the Capitol insurrection. She spent the fall semester in Milan due to the pandemic and her parents’ fear of the election in November.
“When the whole thing happened on the sixth of January at the Capitol, I guess that was kind of like the last straw,” Salemme said. “There [were] already so many other things going on, like COVID, safety and the fact that I have no family in the U.S., so if something bad was to happen, I’d be stuck there.”
Salemme stayed in D.C. to quarantine over the summer until she went home to Italy in early August. She attended multiple Black Lives Matter protests in June where police officers employed tear gas and other forceful tactics against largely peaceful protesters. She was shocked to learn that officers did not use the same tactics in response to the rioting on Jan. 6.
“One of the first protests I went to was at the Capitol, and I clearly remember the police standing behind every single crowd control barrier. None of the protesters even thought about pushing the barriers or trying to trespass, because just by the intimidating stares of the police officers we knew it wouldn’t end well,” Salemme said. “Seeing the videos of the insurrection where Trump rioters were able to trespass those same barriers with such ease made me disappointed and mad.”
Salemme said that her experiences at American University have taught her to stand up for her beliefs and voice her opinions, a trait that she does not believe she would have acquired if she had not moved to D.C. She hopes to return to the District in May for graduation.
Elena Arango also spent her first semester at home and moved back to D.C. in mid-January. Arango, who is from Cali, Colombia planned to return to the District in early January but postponed her flight to Jan. 17 due to the insurrection. Her parents were hesitant about letting her come back at all.
“I remember I started crying. I was like, ‘is this a sign that I shouldn’t go back?’” Arango said.
Her parents agreed that she could return to D.C. as long as her mother accompanied her on the trip.
“She thought that they were going to bomb [my apartment building] or something like that,” Arango said.