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Alumni News

Nicole Romero ’20

The Independent Short Film award winner’s professors urged her to talk about her experiences as an undocumented immigrant, and with it came many accolades.

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The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program at Montclair State University’s College of the Arts requires dedication and hard work. But for Nicole Romero ’20, reaching her goal of a bachelor’s degree meant more than the usual academic and artistic challenges.

Born in Peru and raised in Paterson since the age of 2, Nicole learned early what it meant to be cautious. She felt her parents’ fear when news reports of immigration raids came out. Anxiety was part of her life. She learned why at the age of 16, when her parents told her that she was not a legal resident of the U.S.

By the time Nicole reached Montclair State University, she had a story to tell – but how would she tell it? It was hard for her to trust others with the truth about her family history. How would Montclair State prepare her for the openness that a creative career required?

“I was lucky to have professors who cared about me, and who cared about where I came from,” Nicole tells us. “That was very motivating for me.”

“Lisa Raven, Jason Schafer, Karl Nussbaum and Roberta Friedman – they were among the professors who were so helpful,” she says. “They were great mentors and I felt I could confide in them.”

She also talks about the isolation she felt as a DACA student. DACA refers to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program designed to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. “There weren’t a lot of other students in my major who were in my situation,” she says. “The faculty were always so generous in pointing me toward resources.”

It was her Montclair State professors who encouraged her to tell her unique story. In 2018, she produced a documentary called “Dacamented,” which brings attention to DACA – and to efforts to keep it from being rescinded. In her latest film, “A Real Job,” she tells the tale of a young teenager who is not allowed to walk home from school alone. It echoes the frustration and fearfulness of her own youth.

“Dacamented” won first place for Independent Short Film as well as the Doris Aaronson Award for Best Social or Environmental Documentary at the Passaic County Film Festival. She has submitted “A Real Job” to several film festivals and hopes to be releasing it more widely very soon.

In her final semester at Montclair State, things became even more complicated for Nicole when the country shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “My mother became ill with the virus,” she says. “It was really hard. The faculty were so supportive.” Thankfully, her mother recovered from the illness.

Despite the challenges, Nicole has many wonderful memories of her time at Montclair State. “I really loved being on campus in the fall,” she says. “And I loved being part of the Filmmaking program. Being on sets with my friends was so much fun. I am still in touch with many of them.”

Nicole misses the camaraderie of campus life, as well as the benefits of having so many resources at her fingertips. “When you’re on campus you have access to so much state-of-the-art equipment. Professors and friends are always around to help with your projects, too.”

Nicole recommends keeping in touch with friends and faculty after graduation. “These are the people who will think of you when projects come up,” she counsels.

You can learn more about Nicole’s work, and view “Dacamented,” at https://nicolejhaziel.myportfolio.com/.