Immigrant Parents Inspire Graphic Design Student's Art, Life

May 02, 2019


  • Olvera was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, but mainly grew up in Gilbert, South Carolina.
  • Olvera’s parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico before she was born.

Catalina OlveraROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA — For inspiration, Winthrop University’s Catalina Zavala Olvera looks no further than to her parents.

“Nothing inspires me more during a difficult time to keep persevering than knowing my parents had to go through much more than I will ever have to,” said the graphic design major. “I’m very proud of my parents and all they have accomplished.”

The feeling is mutual – Olvera’s parents will be at the Winthrop Coliseum on May 4 cheering her on as she accepts her degree.

‘They wanted to see their children succeed’

Olvera’s parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico before she was born, the extent of their education a sole high school diploma between the two of them.

“For them to come to the United States that was an entirely different world and culture is incredibly impressive because I don’t think I would have the courage to do so,” said Olvera. “They wanted to see their children succeed. We probably would not have had the same advantages in Mexico.”

As she grew up, first in West Chester, Pennsylvania, then Gilbert, South Carolina, Olvera and her nine siblings watched their parents work endlessly, even on weekends, week after week. Her parents worked various jobs, including mushroom farming, cleaning and construction, which were very physically demanding, to pay the bills and put food on the table.

“It was not easy feeding all of us, I would think, but I did not see that struggle,” Olvera said. “They made such a huge effort to keep us healthy and happy that I never felt that I was missing anything. I know they probably had – and continue to have -- anxiety and were scared to run out of money or to fail. But they kept up a strong appearance so we wouldn’t have to worry.

“I am incredibly blessed that my parents were able to work for 20 years to provide my siblings and I an education, in addition to much more they have given us. They are getting older and still work just as much as they did when they arrived here.”

‘Keep the community alive’

The arts always interested Olvera, and she explored it more in high school, choosing Winthrop for its welcoming and supportive environment as well as a graphic design program that “taught more than just the ability to design something conventional.”

“Winthrop’s design program teaches us how to think about real-world problems in an innovative and challenging way,” she explained. “The design professors not only help us with our work but with our future careers and lives.”

Taking inspiration from her parents, Olvera proudly incorporates her Mexican culture in her design: the textures, the concepts, the traditions. Just last year she won the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Charlotte chapter’s inaugural Design Continuum Fund.

After graduation, she’ll work as a junior designer at ByFarr Graphic Design in Columbia.

“I like to greet life with open arms, so we shall see wherever life takes me,” she said. “It was the help from family and strangers in this country that allowed us to succeed, besides how hard my parents worked. That is something I want to keep alive, the community to help build and support each other when in need.”

For more information, contact Nicole Chisari, communications coordinator, at 803/323-2236 or

Button ArrowALL NEWS