The Argentinian teenager who bounded off a plane in Omaha just before Christmas immediately reminded her host family of another teen the family hosted 25 years ago — her father.
“From the minute he got off the plane, he was very friendly and was like a part of our family,” Patty Lusero recalled. “And as soon as she arrived, she hugged us all.”
A quarter-century ago, Pablo Ava stayed with Steve and Patty Lusero for six months as an exchange student at Papillion-La Vista High School. His daughter, Mica Ava, 18, arrived in Omaha on Dec. 20 for a two-month stay that ended Tuesday when she flew back to Buenos Aires.
Pablo, now an attorney and a politician in Argentina, long had talked of his daughter staying with the Luseros, who had extended an open invitation. Several months ago he called and said, “She's coming.”
While in the Omaha area, Mica took ballet classes, went bowling, spoke at elementary and high school classes, attended high school basketball games, fell in love with ice-cream sandwiches and bonded with the Luseros' daughter, Alaina.
“It's been pretty cool,” said Alaina, a junior at Papillion-La Vista, “because I've never had a sister.”
Mica (pronounced Meeka, and short for Micaela) wasn't an exchange student, having already graduated in Argentina. But she kept busy.
Last week, she spent a day talking to teacher Katie Wittrig's Spanish classes at Papillion-La Vista High.
“Hola!” she greeted juniors and seniors as she started a PowerPoint presentation of photos of her country, explaining that “Buenos Aires es la capital.”
After a couple of minutes, she switched to English and provided an overview of her nation of 40 million people.
Her talk came from personal knowledge, not from mere Googling, and she definitely drew some giggling — especially when she showed video of her school's senior class trip to Brazil and a “soap party.”
On a beach, a large-mouthed tube dropped foamy suds from above, quickly enveloping dozens of classmates who danced to the hard beat of music.
As the Papillion-La Vista students chuckled at the suds, teacher Wittrig drew more laughter when she quipped: “Student Council? Ideas?”
But Mica's focus was Argentina, the name of which comes from the Latin “argentum,” meaning silver. Early explorers had heard false rumors of silver in the mountains, and the name stuck.
The visiting teenager showed photos of white-capped mountains, waterfalls and other wonders, including the Teatro Colon, a 106-year-old opera house said to have perfect acoustics.
America has the White House, she said, and Argentina has the Pink House, home of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, first elected in 2007.
Mica showed video of people dancing the tango in the streets — for the benefit of tourists — and she spoke of great Argentinian artists and athletes.
She also spoke openly of a dark time in Argentina's recent history, the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and '80s, when a military junta ordered about 9,000 political dissidents to be “disappeared.”
“There were a lot of missing people and deaths,” Mica said. “My grandfather's brother was one of the missing people. His wife gave birth in a jail.”
A recent point of pride for Argentina, she said, was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election last year as pope. Mica had attended a Mass he celebrated before becoming Pope Francis and said he was beloved in Argentina long before the rest of the world knew of his kindness and humility.
She and her friends listen to North American music, including that of Coldplay, Guns N' Roses and Miley Cyrus, “but we hate Justin Bieber.”
Mica said she admires the American work ethic, the friendliness of the Omaha area “and the respect you have for teachers.” When a student asked if she found Omaha boring, she replied, “No, I like it.”
She explained the foods of Argentina and said there is more junk food in America, which she said has caused her to gain weight.
It's summer now in Buenos Aires, with high temperatures normally in the 80s, but she said she has enjoyed winter in Omaha.
When her father stayed with the Luseros, he would write letters and make occasional phone calls home. Mica stays in regular contact with her parents on Skype and through other modern technology.
She lives in Buenos Aires with her mother, Luciana Pazo. Upon returning, Mica will prepare to enroll in college and study industrial design, though she said her career plans are open.
She plans to return to America some day and wants to visit New York partly because of her love of fashion.
Alaina, meanwhile, said she hopes to visit Mica in Buenos Aires. “No maybes,” Mica said to her. “You have to come.”
Wittrig said it's unfortunate that American students — not to mention many of the rest of us — know little about other countries. When she earlier asked students what was the largest city in Argentina, she said, few knew it was Buenos Aires — a city of 3 million in a metropolitan area of 13 million.
It's also regrettable, Wittrig said, that more students in America don't start studying a foreign language earlier. Mica said she and other students in Argentina start learning English at age 5.
Alaina and her parents drove Mica to Eppley Airfield for a 3 p.m. Tuesday flight to Dallas and then to Buenos Aires. She was scheduled to arrive at 3 a.m. today, Omaha time.
Steve Lusero is a division manager for FireGuard in Omaha, and Patty is a teacher of gifted students in the Westside Community Schools.
Alaina and Mica, who chatted away from the moment they met, said a sad farewell but are looking to the future.
Said Patty: “They keep talking about a third generation someday coming to visit.”