Ariana Aparicio, 29, is set to begin her journey as a Harvard University student by the end of July, where she will venture towards obtaining a Master’s in Education after having been a counselor at the Undocu-Resource Center at Sonoma State University (SSU).
Undocumented and with permission to legally be in the country as a DACA recipient, – a policy intended to help children who were brought by their parents to the U.S. at a young age— Aparicio found comfort in her education before her immigration status began to fill with uncertainty as it came under attack by the current presidential administration.
Born in Mexico City and raised in Point Reyes, Marin County, she arrived to Sonoma County when she started working for 10,000 Degrees, which later led to her job at SSU. She has an online fundraiser on YouCaring to help her get to Harvard.
Who is Ariana Aparicio?
Ariana is a 29 year old woman who was born in Mexico City. At four years old, I was brought to the United States from the city of Puebla where I grew up with my grandmother and now I’m on my way to getting my Master’s in Education at Harvard University.
Why were you raised in Puebla?
That’s where my father is from and my mother is from Guerrero. They met in Mexico City in a restaurant. That’s where they had me.
They had you in the restaurant?
No, in Mexico City (giggles). From there we moved to Puebla to be closer to my grandmother, who took care of me once I turned one, until I migrated to United States.
They say that a child’s first years are crucial for their development. Do you keep any fond memories of those days?
No, I just found out about that. I knew that my parents were over here. My grandmother was my first mother, and my grandfather my father. I did not assimilate age. But I knew that my real parents lived in another country. My grandparents used to tell me stories that my parents had taken a plane and whenever I saw a plane, I thought about them. I did not know who they were or how they were, I just knew they had taken a plane.
Did those years have an impact on your current lifestyle and way of thinking?
I admire many women in my life, not because there weren’t many men who impacted my life, but I admire the strength my grandmother had and her ability to raise me. She had 12 children and seven survived. She ended up taking care of me at the age of 60. I am very connected with my grandmother and I always think of her legacy.
How did you get to the U.S. when you were four?
I asked my parents because I don’t remember. Before, in the early 90’s it was much easier to cross the border, so they just crossed me. I remember being in a hotel and I knew I was here because I remember seeing the American flags, which is how I knew I was in another country.
How was your cultural and language transition at school?
I was very quiet, shy and reserved. Partly because I did not know anyone or the language. When I was in preschool I identified with the Latina teachers because they spoke in Spanish and I think they knew I was a recent immigrant, so they tried to help me as much as they could. That was in Inverness School in Point Reyes.
At what point did you identify yourself as undocumented and an immigrant?
Being undocumented was an identity that I adopted more toward my high school and college years. As a child, I knew I was an immigrant, that I was Latina and that I was Mexican. But during my cognitive years I felt that I needed to find my place among my classmates, school and in the town where I grew up in and decide if I identified more as Mexican or Latino, or as American. I had a period of exploring my identity. As I learned more about my culture, my food and everything that I represented, I learned to accept it. I learned to take pride in my origins and eventually admit that I was undocumented.
How would you describe that moment and how did you perceive it?
I came to accept my identity more during my first few years in college, but in high school I felt I was more reserved about it because my parents saw it as a risk. I would have those kind of conversations in secret with my friends or at home with my parents. But the topic became somewhat more open when I finished college. I could not apply to graduate school or jobs. I could not apply for internships, I could not study abroad, I could not take a sabbatical and I could not take summer classes. Which is why I had to explain my situation to so many people that I trusted. I had to look at the situation not so much as what I wanted to do, but as something I needed to do.
And now Harvard. Is this what you can do or what you want to do?
Being a DACA recipient changed everything for me. It meant I was able to work legally, that I had a social security and a driver’s license. The world completely opened up for me. Traveling within the United States exposed me to what life was outside of California. Going to Mexico and seeing my grandparents after 16 years, while connecting with them and my culture, truly reaffirmed that I felt more American and that I could do more for my people in this country.
On the other hand, when talking about Harvard, — which is my dream school — it makes me want to continue on to graduate school. Yes, while I want and need my Master’s, after Jeff Sessions canceled DACA in September it made me think about what I was going to do. I needed a plan and although I cannot make long-term plans, knowing that DACA was due to expire in October 2018, Harvard was my way out. It was that or not having the ability to legally work in the U.S.
Did you ever see Harvard as an option?
Never. It was until I visited the school and learned about it when I received DACA. As a first generation student, we don’t know what’s out there. It was as though Harvard was my calling. Of the five universities to which I applied, Harvard was the only one that accepted me. I had no option. As an undocumented woman, I did not see myself doing anything other than continuing on to obtain my graduate degree and what’s better than Harvard?
Many people do not pursue a higher education because of lack of money, how did you manage this?
It’s one of the reasons why I applied to graduate programs, because they are fully funded and I knew this would keep me busy for a few years. I would be busy doing something productive for myself while this man is in power. Somehow I know my life and security would be under the responsibility of an institution.
The big question is, will you be coming back to Sonoma County once you finish your education?
A part of me thinks that I will not return immediately, it all depends on how well I adapt to the snow and the cold weather. But I also have an interest in pursuing my doctorate degree for which I will be applying to Berkeley and Stanford later on. My plan is to take advantage of the change and stay there for a while and see what employment opportunities I receive once I’m there.
Any words of advice for fellow undocumented students that look up to you as a role model?
We are currently living tumultuous times, there is a lot of uncertainty; while it’s a challenge, it is not impossible to pursue your education while being undocumented. There is always a way, if you have the hunger and the desire to move forward and you show that you want the best for you and your community, there will be many people willing to help those students. Regardless of your immigration status, don’t give up. Raise your voice if you see an injustice, we need more allies to speak out through their actions rather than with their words.
In regards to DACA recipients, what would you like to see happen to them?
What we want, and I speak for myself, is our citizenship. We have been here most of our lives. We identify ourselves as Americans. We don’t only want citizenship for us, but for all 11 million undocumented people in this country who have been living and working here. My parents were the original dreamers and if it wasn’t for them, I would not be here.
Translated to English by La Prensa Sonoma’s intern Milagros Gomez.
Noticias y eventos desde la región vinícola del norte de California para la comunidad latina.
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