Finding My Greatest Treasure

When I was six years old, my parents decided that our present situation was not enough, that our family deserved better. They made the decision to leave our extended family, our friends, and our memories for a better future for their two little girls: my sister and me.

My parents sacrificed what was once considered home for the American Dream: a life full of hardships, struggles and sacrifices. The American Dream was everything for them, regardless of the sleepless nights, double shifts and little time with their children. They left everything behind to give us the opportunity to obtain an education.

Throughout the years, I noticed the work ethic of my parents – they worked twice as hard as most people. They were so strict about our education, getting good grades, and attendance. At first I didn’t understand why, but it became clear in 8th grade.

It was that time of the year when the 8th graders would fundraise to pay for the traditional Washington D.C. trip. I was eager to get home the day our history teacher gave us the application for this trip. I knew my parents, with a little convincing, would sign off and give me money to spend out there in D.C. Little did I know that my reality was much more difficult than obtaining their signatures.

When my parents came home from their first shift, I made them lunch and cleaned the house. I made sure everything was perfect. I sat my parents down and showed them my report card full of straight A’s, then showed them my three certificates for honors, and made sure the application was last so they’d be convinced of my hard work and would sign off without hesitation. I asked them – but I was shocked that their answer was “No.”

I was so confused—I had worked so hard and kept a high GPA on top of playing club soccer and volunteering at school, mentoring my peers in math.

“Why can’t I go? Did I do something wrong?” My father let out a tear and hugged me. He said, “I’m sorry little one, we are so proud of you, but if we let you go, you will not be able to come home. We are not from here, we are undocumented.”  I’m sure you can imagine how I felt. My heart sank. This was the very first time I was told I was undocumented.

That summer I realized that if I continued doing well in school I could one day graduate and make money to go to D.C. I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be undocumented. When I went to a math camp to prepare for high school honors math, I found out about the famous acronym, AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

This acronym caught my attention, not just because I was a determined individual, but because I needed to find a way to graduate high school.

Since our family began to grow, my parents found a bigger home in a nearby city; however, we had to move schools. My parents found a school that offered the same AVID program I was in. The AVID program at this new high school was where my future was. That year, 2011, I met the AVID Coordinator, at my school whom I instantly admired. This lady was so compassionate, so attentive and so focused to detail. She made sure I turned in everything necessary to get into AVID at this school. She then became my AVID teacher.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama instituted a piece of legislation that would change the lives of undocumented youth forever, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

This piece of legislation made my dreams attainable. I sent my application to immigration and soon after they requested a letter from a witness to verify my presence in June 2011. That’s when my AVID teacher became more than just my teacher. She was the first person I ever trusted with my status. I was so afraid she would judge me when she knew I was not from here; however, she was so understanding and wrote that letter verifying I was in summer school that year.

I shared this with you so you can fully understand what it’s like to be in my shoes.

I am one of 11 million undocumented people and one of 800,000 DACA students in the United States. I was supposed to be a statistic. I was destined to be a high school dropout because I am a female, low-income, undocumented, first-generation student.

AVID changed that for me.

It allowed me to dream and set my standards high. It gave me the courage to work hard for my goals and persevere until I reach them. AVID gave me a family who understood how difficult my journey was, yet stood by me.

I graduated high school with an exceptional résumé. I had 23 high school certificates, 11 senator recognitions for being an outstanding student, I was an intern on Kaiser Permanente and was accepted to intern at the local Children’s Hospital. Not only did I graduate high school, but I was also pinned as a medical assistant at age 17.

Without AVID and my AVID teacher I don’t think I could have accomplished all of this.

With the opportunities and experiences afforded to me through AVID – there was little room left for me to be concerned about much else. My only worry was graduating high school and becoming the first person in my family to make it to university.

I am now semesters away from obtaining my bachelor’s degree in biology. My goal is to become a doctor and help families in need. I continue to thank my AVID teachers for always going out of their way to find resources that would help me go to college. Now that I am in college I continue using all the tools AVID gave me to succeed.

As a DACA student I worry about the daily news. I worry about checking Twitter multiple times a day to see if the president has tweeted anything about DACA. I worry about my future as a student, I worry about losing my DACA status and not being able to continue going to school because of my status.

DACA or not, I will find a way to reach my goals and not live in fear because AVID gave me a family, it gave me everything I need to succeed, to persevere, and most of all it gave me the greatest treasure I possess, which is my education.

 — Citlali