Carmen Carretero Martinez has always been "the different kid."
Born in Spain and anchored in Bioko Island during her early teen years, Carretero Martinez found fragments of "home" in New Mexico during her time at the University of New Mexico, she said.
The journey for the 19-year-old architecture graduate, however, was not without turbulence.
Carretero Martinez arrived in the United States with her family at age 15, in search of educational opportunity as college neared. She was dropped into Santa Fe High School without being fluent in English. Carretero Martinez picked up the language by joining teams — from swim to soccer to tennis — before graduating at 16.
Though the language and the government were unfamiliar, Carretero Martinez said the view didn’t deviate much from her roots.
"New Mexico has a lot of impact from Spain," Carretero Martinez said. "Coming from Spain — and also the island from Africa was a colony of Spain — I found that they all have the same type of landscape and architecture."
She was, of course, referring to the cube-shaped slabs of adobe that comprise the Land of Enchantment. Though the formulaic structures provided a sense of familiarity, Carretero Martinez’s work in architecture does not rush to replicate it.
Instead, Carretero Martinez described her architecture as "very futuristic" and said she breaks away from the harsh blockiness that pervades most cities.
"I mime the shapes of the environment," Carretero Martinez explained."“When you look out on the desert here in New Mexico, you don’t see cubes, you see these sort of dune-type shapes — so I design architecture that represents the environment."
Her willingness to disrupt the status quo was not always easy, though. As a young girl, Carretero Martinez often found herself in opposition to the established structures of society simply by being herself.
"Since I was a little kid, I always liked to create things, do art, paint — but back then, architecture was sort of a thing for boys," she said.
Carretero Martinez said with this limitation in mind, she relinquished her interest in the field. She told herself that her brother could become the architect, while she would just become the artist, devoid of her true passion.
"But then when I decided to apply at UNM, I was scrolling through the majors and looking for 'art.' On the A's, I stopped in architecture, and my mom said, 'It’s your thing. Go ahead and do it,'" she said.
And so, Carretero Martinez said she silenced her apprehensions and went forward without looking back. This persistence is what Carretero Martinez attributes to be her most valuable characteristic.
"I sometimes find it difficult for professors or other classmates (to take me seriously) because I’m graduating and I’m 19. But, that sort of makes me come out with more force," Carretero Martinez said. "A lot of people told me 'just take a couple of years off and come back to college, you’re not in a hurry' — but if you want to do it, why not?"
Carretero Martinez found allies in her time at UNM in spite of those who doubted her. She said in the architecture department, there are strict guidelines about how to complete certain tasks. Some instructors recognized her ingenuity and encouraged her to be more free in her designs during her third year.
"(Some instructors said) 'Whatever you’re thinking, just put it on paper. Don’t think that it needs to have walls or doors — just put it there, then start incorporating the architecture part' — and I figured out that it actually works. If you can create it in your head, you can create it in real life," Carretero Martinez said.
This advice led Carretero Martinez to push boundaries beyond the department. This fall, Carretero Martinez was the first UNM architecture student to present at an engineering symposium hosted by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) in Phoenix, Arizona.
"Everyone (at the symposium) was sort of wondering what I was doing there because I was in architecture and not science, but since the beginning of this year, architecture is part of STEM," she said. She added that she hopes other architects will attend these symposiums because of the new perspective it gave her on her work.
A desire to gain a new perspective is an inseparable component of Carretero Martinez’s character, said Ajinkya Patil. Patil has known Carretero Martinez since 2017 when they met at a going-away party for a mutual friend and is now her boyfriend.
"I think a big part of her personality is that she has stayed in three different countries," Patil said. "(Despite this) she doesn’t have an identity that has been formed by just one of them." He added that her diverse experiences have made her grow and pushed her "to keep going from one country to another."
As for where comes next, Carretero Martinez said she’s prepared to move to the Bay Area to begin a master's program in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. She would then like to get another master's in international relations so she can give back to the world through her love of architecture.
"You can see here in New Mexico the two different sides of the coin — the very rich and the very poor. I wish there was more balance, but there is still a lot of need," Carretero Martinez said. She added that whether it’s building schools or otherwise, she wants to help "create a better quality of life" wherever she lands.
Though the tasks will change, her motivation to persist will remain constant.
"(My mom) tells me this phrase in Spanish, 'no hay nada imposible, sino hombres incapaces,' which means 'there is nothing impossible, other than incapable human beings.'" Carretero Martinez said. "So if I want to tell myself I’m incapable of doing it, I can, but it’s not impossible."
Alyssa Martinez is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amart4447