PHOTO COURTESY OF SAMANTHA SUAZO

Moving mountains

Samantha Suazo returns from Johannesburg leadership program

Raised in a small town in the mountains of Honduras, Samantha Suazo moved to Big Sky at the age of 12 seeking asylum in the United States with her mother. Seven years later, Samantha is fluent in English, has jump started a Spanish speaking newspaper called Noticias Montanas, and recently returned from four months in Johannesburg with the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL). “I grew up cutting coffee, planting coffee, producing coffee, exporting coffee. Most of my childhood is surrounding coffee production, honestly,” said Suazo. Samantha was raised in a small town—about the same size of Big Sky—called La Laguna Esquias Comayagua. Like the Gallatin, a river runs nearby through the mountains and red and green coffee berries dot the hillsides. Although most of her family is still in La Laguna, Suazo explained returning to Honduras is complicated. Once you seek asylum, she explained, you cannot go back until you’ve received U.S. citizenship. “It is an ethical dilemma that I am thinking through at this point and processing. For example, do I become a U.S. citizen and resign my country of birth? Or do I not become a U.S. citizen and go back for once and all when I am ready?” said Suazo. FOUR MONTHS IN JOBURG Samantha, still a junior at Lone Peak High School, recently returned from four months in Johannesburg, South Africa. She participated in a program through the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL) with 16 other American students at the Africa Leadership Academy. ALA’s mission is to cultivate the next generation of African world leaders from across the continent, but they also invite a small group of American students to join them each year. “Everybody at the African Leadership Academy spoke two languages or more. One of my best friends, he’s from Morocco, and he speaks four languages. I was talking with this kid from Uganda, and he speaks three languages. That’s the beauty of it, you know?” said Suazo. With help from Barbara Rowley, Suazo applied for the SEGL program one week before the application deadline closed. She was accepted on a full scholarship. “I would take classes that I never thought I would take in my life. Like an ethics and leadership class, or entrepreneurial leadership, or African politics and governments,” said Suazo. JOURNALISM Before South Africa, Suazo jumped into journalism through Rowley. They teamed up through the Big Sky Youth Corps, explained Samantha. “I started writing for the Lone Peak Lookout and I wrote on the needs, successes, fears, and just everyday life for the Latino community in Big Sky. I wrote for six weeks and after I finished my internship, I realized that there was indeed a problem not just in our community but in our state in general. The lack of information that is available to the Latino community in Spanish [is widespread],” said Suazo. After six weeks, Suazo decided she wanted to do something about it. The lack of Spanish news affected her family, her friends, and her community. After talking with Barbara, she decided to start a publication called Noticias Montana. “We are working with a bigger news source here in our state to see if Noticias Montana can find a home there… One of my goals coming back from South Africa was ensuring the continuation of the projects I have been working on for so many years. We are also seeking out new journalists to see if they want to start writing for our source. We are trying to grow outreach of Noticias Montana. We’re trying to give tools through it. We don’t want it just sort of as a news source. We also want it to serve as a source where people can confide in, can ask questions and get information, because that’s the main purpose,” said Suazo. INSPIRED BY HER PARENTS Coming to the United States at 12, Samantha was the first person of color in her class in the Big Sky School District and she did not speak English. It was a fast fast world, she explained. She dreamed of learning the language; every day she would go home from school and try to memorize 16 unfamiliar words. “One thing that my parents my entire life have taught me is the value of hard work. The thing is they also taught me that, without motivation, I cannot achieve quality work. My parents are very motivated individuals. My mom did not finish middle school and my dad didn’t finish primary school, but they are the most intelligent people I know,” said Suazo. The experience for Suazo’s mom, since coming to Big Sky, hasn’t been as easy. She doesn’t have the same opportunities, she doesn’t have the everyday access to education, she must work and put food on the table, explained Samantha. “The United States is a fast, fast world. Everything is going on by the minute. Everything is scheduled. Everything is on a calendar. People go to work, come home. Go to work, come home,” said Suazo. The Latino community, however, provides unity. “Everybody knows everyone... I know everybody in Bozeman, I know everybody in Big Sky. We’re very connected. A lot of us are very religious. Most of the Latinos I know attend Catholic mass... We have to build these systems to make sure that we are here for each other,” said Samantha. For example, Samantha’s mom invites over friends from Venezuela, Mexico, and Honduras for parties. The network between Latino families is extremely tight. LOOKING AHEAD With life speeding by and college applications on the horizon for the LPHS junior, Samantha wants to hit the brakes and prioritize self-care in 2022. One of her goals for the year is to read 22 books. “Being really motivated and being passionate about the things that I do every day, and finding value in them, so I do them well. That is something I have carried with me through my life, and I plan, hope, and want to continue carrying with me in the future,” said Suazo. 

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