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Undocumented, but not limited

Challenged by a lack of a legal status, this student accepted no excuses and is determined to be a success.

By Mickie Shaw, Multimedia Editor

[The subject of this profile asked that only her first name be used.]

The summer heat was stifling, even at night, and their fear only added to the discomfort as nearly 50 people, mostly men, quietly moved through a cotton field. They had crossed the border from Mexico to Arizona and were suddenly in America — illegally.

After crossing, the dusty, tired and anxious group piled into a waiting fruit truck and traveled several hours to Indio, California. Once in Indio, the migrants stayed overnight in a safe house. The next day they traveled in minivans to Los Angeles. Seeking adventure and leaving poverty behind, Maria, 24, and her sister, 19, both made the dangerous trek to the United States from their small town of Morillia, Mexico.

Maria smiled at the memory, as she told the story of that fateful crossing.

Now a full-time student at Valley College, the petite, dark-haired 45-year-old is a child development major who wants to transfer to CSUN after earning her associate of arts degree. Maria earned a 4.0 grade point average last semester while also working as a housekeeper.

“I would like to work with children with special needs in the Hispanic community. You know parents are not well educated, some don’t speak English, some are ashamed to say my child has different needs,” said Maria. “I would like to work with small children. I think that is when they need the most support. Especially in our community where education is not a priority.”

Photo by Mickie Shaw/The Valley Star

Maria always loved school. As a young student in Mexico, she started working at 14 years old as a housekeeper to help her impoverished family —including nine siblings — survive. After graduating from high school, she was discouraged from continuing her studies and told to find a full-time job. In the United States, Maria started her academic career with English classes at Van Nuys High School. Eventually, she completed her high school diploma and was encouraged by councilors to take community college classes.

A recipient of the California Dream Act, which pays for her school fees, she worries about the threat of deportation and the cutting of programs that have helped her attend school.

“Especially when the new presidency began, I would hear people were caught [by ICE] driving children to school,” said Maria with a deep concern in her voice. “That makes me feel a little afraid. Not just to be detained but … what is going to happen to my daughter?”

The lack of legal status and a social security number limits her academically. It is a challenge she deals with often.

“Sometimes I really need the [legalization documents], like right now at school. I would have better opportunities if I had papers,” said Maria.

Now married, she has a 10-year-old daughter who is an American-born citizen. Her academic success has even inspired her husband, who is also undocumented, to start English classes.

“I would like — especially young people — to know that there are no limitations. There are no excuses. That it is a hard job to do, but you can make it.”


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