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Being Undocumented Isn’t Going to Stop Me From Going to College

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Being Undocumented Isn’t Going to Stop Me From Going to College

Being Undocumented Isn’t Going to Stop Me From Going to College

In Honduras, my mother finished the equivalent of high school. She wanted to go on to college, but it’s a poor country, so she couldn’t do it. That’s the reason why she brought me here. Due to poverty and corruption, Honduras does not offer opportunities like education and jobs. She could only afford to take one child, and I was her only daughter. She decided to bring me to give me the career that she couldn’t have.

When we left, it was nighttime. I remember saying goodbye to my grandmother. I remember I cried, but at the same time, I was excited. At first, we walked. Later, when we were crossing the river to come into the United States, we had to get on a tire because the river was so deep. My mom almost drowned, but I held on to her.

I always knew I didn’t have papers. And I always knew a piece of paper wasn’t going to stop me from achieving my goals. By becoming the first Latina valedictorian at my high school, and the first in my family to attend college, I have already achieved two big ones.

At first we lived in Houston. I had to repeat first grade because I didn’t know any English. After a long day at school, I went home to watch the language instruction program, Rosetta Stone. Although I felt left out because I didn’t know English, I was determined to persevere and learn the language.

We moved to New Orleans when I was starting fourth grade. I knew English by then, so that helped, but moving from Houston to here was harder than I expected. In Houston, a lot of people speak Spanish, but not here. There are fewer people like me. People would make fun of my accent or call me an immigrant, like that was a bad thing. But I didn’t care. Those kids didn’t know my accent was a symbol of sacrifice and the hope for prosperity.

In middle school, a representative from Sci High came to visit. (My school’s official name is the New Orleans Math & Science High School, but everyone calls it Sci High.) I liked their AP classes. I also liked that that they were a small community and not a high school devoted to sports. If you are interested, they will accept you. They don’t reject anyone based on grades or test scores.

At Sci High, I took four AP classes, including statistics, and discovered how much I love science. Last summer I did an internship at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. My mentor is looking for a cure for tuberculosis. With help, I designed my own experiment to find ways to inhibit large immune cells called macrophages.

My grandmother died almost three years ago. After we left Honduras, my mother never saw her again. After she died, my mom was thinking we’d go back to Houston. Here we don’t have family, but she has a sister in Houston. She had it in her mind that we would go back after I finished high school. She didn’t want a move to lower my GPA.

But in the end, she decided to stay here with me, at least for a while. Right now, I’m waiting to find out about a merit scholarship and what the legislature’s planned changes in TOPS—a Louisiana state scholarship for outstanding students—will mean for my financial aid.

But I do know a few things. I am going to the University of New Orleans this fall. My plan right now is to major in business and minor in microbiology or psychology. I have a job this summer that will help me save money for school. And I know why I am doing this: to make Mamá proud because she gave it all for me.

Photo of Dairyn Olivia Navarro.
What Is the Belief Gap?Too often, students of color and those who face challenging circumstances are held to lower standards simply because of how they look or where they come from. Close the Belief Gap →

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