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Thursday, December 07, 2023

UF lecturer brings Argentina roots to Gainesville

María Gabriela Puscama shares stories of immigrating to the U.S., finding her community and redefining identity

María Puscama is pictured above
María Puscama is pictured above

María Gabriela Puscama is a lecturer, researcher and the Beginning Spanish 1 coordinator for UF. Originally from Argentina, the 34-year-old immigrated to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue her master’s degree at Louisiana State University. 

She initially did not intend to stay in the U.S. after finishing her degree, but found thrill in transitioning to graduate school.

“It wasn’t that hard at first because it was very exciting to be in a new place and I originally came to study, so I thought at the time it was temporary,” Puscama said. 

As Puscama finished her master’s degree, she met her now husband, Matthew Ray, and after a year of long distance, she decided to go back to school in the U.S. She continued her education in Spanish language science and worked on her doctorate degree at Pennsylvania State University.

Although her experience at Pennsylvania State University was good, Puscama noticed a lack of representation in the state. 

“I really enjoyed my PhD in Pennsylvania and all, but it wasn’t as huge of a Hispanic community as it is here,” Puscama said.

The larger Hispanic community at UF helps keep Puscama in touch with her roots, she said. 

“We’re a big part of the U.S. community, especially here in Florida,” Puscama said. “I find it a lot more welcoming here, in a way, just because of the amazing size of the Hispanic community.”

She’s grateful UF fosters a community where bilingualism is celebrated and she doesn’t have to fear being harassed while speaking Spanish.

“I am super thankful that I’m in a place where that’s not the case and that it’s really natural and welcome to be bicultural, bilingual,” Puscama said. 

Despite the welcoming atmosphere across campus, Puscama said she struggles with staying connected to her culture while adapting to her new life in the U.S.

“I feel like most immigrants experience that constant push and pull being between two places, so you want to make home of the new place you’re in,” Puscama said.

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The conflicted feeling between two homes is something Puscama thinks doesn’t go away. She notices it when she visits her family in Argentina, she said. 

“Once you leave your home country, everything changes. Everything has changed,” Puscama said. “Your family starts noticing that you don’t speak the same. My English is all over my Spanish now.”

Once Puscama decided to stay in the U.S. for good, the reality that she would only be able to see her family annually was hard. 

“You would have expected that shock at the beginning, but it just took me longer because I didn’t think it was permanent till then,” Puscama said. “I think the hardest was getting used to the idea that I’m gonna see my family once a year, maybe twice if I’m lucky because they're really far.”

Puscama noticed multiple cultural differences as she immersed herself into American culture but felt particularly shocked by American family norms.

“It took me a while to get used to the fact that it’s more normal here for people to live away from their families and away from home for most of their career and most of their lives,” Puscama said. “So just seeing people for holidays or weddings and that kind of stuff.”

Puscama said it’s common for families in Argentina to live within a five- or 10-minute drive from each other, so her in-laws living hours away came as a culture shock. 

Living in the U.S. and adapting to new cultural practices brings a change of identity for immigrants, Puscama said. 

“It’s good to remember that you’re not alone as an immigrant and that everyone goes through the same struggle. Everyone goes through this redefinition of your identity,” Puscama said. 

To stay connected with Argentina, Puscama enjoys creating pieces of home by cooking her favorite Argentine dishes, like empanadas and steak milanesa.

“What I find comfort in personally is cooking because I really like cooking,” Puscama said. “And I am thankful I’m able to find all the ingredients to make my food.” 

This year, Puscama took on the role as faculty advisor for the Argentinian Student Association to connect with students who share her heritage. Puscama said the association participates in celebrations of cultural events and watch parties for sporting events like the World Cup.

“I’m very, very excited about that because it’s a whole new generation of students that are trying to keep Argentinian [culture] alive. I’m super, super thrilled about that,” Puscama said.  

Joshua Higdon, a 23-year-old UF Hispanic linguistics PhD student, works with Puscama both in psycholinguistic research and teaching Beginning Spanish 1.

Last year, both Higdon and Puscama were new to UF. Higdon was nervous to begin their academic and teaching career, but found comfort in Puscama’s guidance. 

“I was a nervous wreck. I was a hot mess and she was just so good at giving tips, giving guidance whenever I have issues,” Higdon said. “Any questions I had, I knew I could always email her and she got back really fast.” 

Higdon also took a graduate seminar on second language acquisition that Puscama taught. At the end of the course, Higdon had to create a research proposal and received support from Puscama to pursue their idea. 

“We met a couple of times and she really didn’t have to do this. This was just her being her. She went so above and beyond and gave me really good insight,” Higdon said. 

Ray, Puscama’s husband, met her while they completed their master’s degrees at LSU. He describes Puscama as a hardworking and determined person. 

“When it came to getting her doctorate, she had to go through a lot of adversity, particularly trying to conduct experiments during the pandemic,” Ray said. 

Ray received a new perspective on the process of applying for a green card. 

“I learned about it particularly from a whole new perspective of the struggles, the anxiety of it and such, which was very real,” Ray said. “It made me realize how lucky we were to have those resources.”

Contact Megan Howard at Follow her on Twitter @meganmhxward.

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Megan Howard

Megan Howard is a second-year journalism major and the University General Assignment reporter. In her free time she enjoys reading and belting Taylor Swift songs.

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