He has been at Canterbury for more than 30 years. He has taught countless Saints and played many vital roles on the hilltop. He is much beloved by his students, who affectionately call him “Mr. O.” But during a recent Saints on the Hill presentation, Director of International Travel Programs, Language Teacher, and Form Dean Julio Omaña P ’19, ’20 shared the many other diverse identities that define who he is as a person.
“This talk was originally going to be about my time as an undocumented immigrant when I first came to the United States,” Julio said. “But it evolved to be about intersectionality and all the different pieces that make me who I am.”
The first identities he cited were as both a son and a brother. He shared photos and information about his parents and family and described his childhood in Venezuela. He also discussed being a husband to Theology Department Chair Amy Omaña ’86, P ’19, ’20. “You should know this part about me; you see it on a daily basis,” he joked. “But if somebody hadn’t made that connection yet between Mr. Omaña and Mrs. Omaña, well, here it is!” He added that he is a dad as well, proudly talking about his children who are Canterbury graduates and currently attending college.
Julio went on to say he spent a year as a post-graduate boarding school student in New Hampshire, which played a major role in his path to becoming a teacher. “I didn’t train to be a teacher; my major in college was communications, and I was going to go into TV production or advertising,” he recalled. “But life threw me a curveball, and 31 years later, here I am talking to you! Making connections with students is what I love the most about being a teacher.” And Julio is not only on the faculty at Canterbury; he is also a coach—of multiple soccer and softball teams over the years.
Julio is trilingual—English, Spanish, and French—and a frequent traveler, from Barcelona and Madrid to Lourdes, France, to 43 states across the U.S. “I love getting around, meeting people, and understanding humanity,” Julio explained. “We are all one people and love each other. Governments are not what people are. I always search for lessons that help me understand the world better. I try to bring that to our travel programs when I can.”
Then, with a sigh, he spoke of being a runner. Anyone who has traversed the Canterbury campus in the early morning has likely seen Julio running up and down the hill, so his next words might have come as a surprise to many. “I hate running,” he said. “Running is a struggle. I have to trick myself to get up and run in the morning. I set out my running clothes the night before and put my shoes by the door, so I have no excuse not to do it. But I love how it feels afterward!”
After having been an undocumented immigrant for some time, Julio became a naturalized U.S. citizen—and is proud of it! “I came here in 1980 and became a full citizen in 1998,” he shared. “The naturalization ceremony was terrific, and we had a citizen celebration right here on campus. But I had been undocumented for 18 years before that. The process is so complicated and expensive and onerous that we couldn’t complete it before my dad needed to start working. We had to get on that plane and do what we did. I was 11 at the time.”
All that said, Julio concluded with important guidance for the Saints community. “Be careful. You do not know when you look at someone who they really are or what is going on in their life,” he said. “Some think undocumented immigrants are bad people. That is something you hear out there. My challenge to you is that when you hear it, ask them, ‘How many undocumented immigrants have you talked to or spent time with? How many do you really know?’ Then tell them, ‘I know one, and he is a son, a dad, a husband, a teacher, a coach, a dog walker, a friend, a cousin—he is all these things!’”