When I was fourteen years old, I fully believed that I would never make it out of the Central Valley. I was blinded by a generational cycle of poverty that was reinforced by endless fields of agricultural crops. The very same food that you eat without a second thought holds my people captive. I can see the consequences in the palms of my grandmother’s hands, which have been dulled by decades of working harvest periods. When I look at my mother I see how the long summer days in packing houses aged her. Their shared pain of hard labor echoes a greater burden of survival. It’s one thing to come from a family of immigrants — it’s a completely different thing to be one yourself.
I was a sophomore in high school when I enrolled in my first college class. At the age of fifteen, I became the first person in my family to attend college. Unlike some of my other classmates, I wasn’t fortunate enough to receive DACA protection, missing the original deadline for proof of residency in the United States by just a few months. Under this circumstance, I was fully under the impression I would never be able to attend a four-year university after high school. So when I was presented with the opportunity to get an associates degree while still in high school, I did it without hesitation. I didn’t consider the idea of going to a university until the summer before my senior year. I came to the realization that if I didn’t at least try, I would spend the rest of my life selling my labor for profit.
Fresh out of high school with an associate’s degree I couldn’t use, I applied as a transfer student to a short list of universities across the state. I had toured UCR during my senior year and fell in love with the campus. I was fortunate to receive not only an acceptance but enough money in financial aid to attend. I was privileged to have the resources and the support from my family to make the transition to Riverside. It wasn’t until I stepped foot on campus that I realized just how different my experience was going to be.
While the rest of my peers worried about securing summer internships and work experience, I had to help my parents deal with immigration lawyers. My first two years of college were tainted by the overwhelming feeling that I didn’t belong. During my first year at UCR, my mother was denied residency in the country and was sentenced by a judge to stay in Mexico. I was home for spring break when we got the news, and within a week I was back on campus. With the burden of success heavier than ever, I had no room to make mistakes.
To say that the years that followed were hard would be an understatement. My identity as a college student has never come first. Before anything else I am an immigrant, and this reality was never as prominent as it was during that time period. I never disclosed my immigration status to anyone, out of fear that someone might use it against me. This underlying fear would be the same reason that for the entirety of my sophomore year I would be too scared to leave campus. Being an undocumented student has never been an easy task, in fact it’s almost impossible.
My educational career hit many bumps in the road, and by the end of my sophomore year I was on the verge of dropping out. The stress of family problems and a lack of self-discipline when it came to school work was the perfect storm of terrible events. That all changed at the start of my junior year, when I came to the conclusion that I was done living out of fear. I took all the bad things that happened to me and used them as motivation to push myself to achieve more.
Flash forward two years later, and I am only a few weeks away from attending graduation — a testament that I was eventually able to overcome all of my personal and academic hardships. I was able to find internships that catered to undocumented students like myself. Slowly but surely, I was able to fill my resume with experiences and I didn’t allow myself to limit my potential. I worked long hours with the rest of my peers without the same benefits of financial compensation, but I never allowed that to discourage me. I want my experience to serve as a reminder to anyone who finds themselves in my position, that anything is possible. We may be locked to our identity as undocumented students, but we shouldn’t let it limit us — we belong here.