“I immigrated to the United States from Argentina when I was five-years-old. My parents always like to remind me that on the nine hour flight to Miami, I had these idealized visions that Florida would simply be recurrent trips to Disney World and an abundance of cheeseburgers.
However, I eventually learned our immigration story did not revolve around those childish hopes. We immigrated to the United States in 2001 when the Argentinian economy fell and my family lost their jobs and livelihood. We came on a work visa my architect father attained. My parents started the process of ‘legally’ immigrating and a lawyer’s unethical practice caused us to lose all our money and become inactive in the system without us even realizing it. It was that moment we became undocumented.
My parents kept the secret of our status quiet and private out of fear and shame. Up until I was 18, I lived my life thinking I was just like everyone else. My parents never told me about the truth of my status in hopes it wouldn’t discourage me from going to college. When I applied to USF, I applied as a regular student, however my father sent in my DACA forms so USF should have been aware of what kind of student I was.
Yet, they processed me as international and awarded me a scholarship for my high GPA and SAT score. This scholarship also came with in-state tuition. Everything blew up when I tried to register to take a summer class. My scholarship wasn’t active during the summer so I was suddenly being charged out-of-state tuition, which is 3x as much as in-state. At this same time, in 2014, Florida’s governor passed house bill 851 which provided me in-state tuition because I met the requirements of attending a Florida high school for at least 3 years, graduating, and applying to college within 24 months of graduation. When I filed this document, USF realized I was undocumented and took my scholarship away and made me pay it back. From then on, I realized just how much harder achieving my dream was about to get.
In my time at USF, I have faced backlash from peers, professors, and administrators. However, one thing that has remained constant is the unwavering support from my parents to continue excelling academically and pursue my degree. With the foundation they gave me of always being true to myself and fighting for my dreams, I achieved my goal of graduating and thrived in the process. My family and I worked so hard in order to pay for my education and my ultimate desire is to make the sacrifices of my parents worth it. I founded the first student organization on my campus that supports undocumented students, UndocUnited. I met with our Vice President about ways to make our campus more inclusive, I planned and led campus-wide protests and I interned at our Office of Multicultural Affairs with our UndocuALLY training where I helped educate the community about the realities and policies surrounding the undocumented community.
Sometimes the discovery of this status feels like having a nightmare where you’re running towards a door but the faster you run, the farther it gets. This door holds the dreams and goals you’ve had your whole life. Or sometimes it feels like you’re screaming but no one can hear you, no one wants to hear you. This identity is an isolated one. This identity tells you that you crashed the party and no one wants you here. But it’s not a party, it’s a country. This identity is one where you make your way, you make it happen. You come out of the shadows, you yell and shout. This identity begs you to become unapologetic and fight for what you want because this country will never hand it to you.
In the moment with my Pap, I was crying because of all the struggles my family and I endured to get me to this point, in this fancy blazer, in front of incredible faculty. After the conversation with my dad, we crafted a game plan to get me to the finish line in whatever ways we could manage. My mom began cleaning houses, her 60-year old body bending and stretching to polish homes. I started working thirty hours a week at a fast food restaurant while balancing a full load of classes. We made it work. We made it happen. I made it happen.
Being an undocumented first generation college student has been the biggest challenge of my life. But in the same sense, it has been the greatest blessing. I’ve learned so much about my resilience, and about my community’s tenacity and power. I learned to never take anything for granted and how to appreciate all I have. Out of thousands of college graduates this May, I am one of the less than 5% who are undocumented students. We did it, with no financial aid, and often no scholarships. With little systemic support, with a lack of access to resources, and with almost no representation. We did it, with the hope to make our parents proud, with the hopes to empower our brothers and sisters, and with the hopes to create nation-wide change. We rise up, we make each other proud and we keep going.”
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