Breaking The Mold


There are experiences in this world that we cannot learn from merely reading text books and sitting in lectures – at times it requires us to get involved and truly embrace what this life has to offer. With this being said, I truly believe each individual has the power to make great contributions to society without the fear of being removed from their chance to do so.

At the age of one, I was brought here legally to the United States from Guadalajara Jalisco, with my parents and siblings. As the social stigma goes, my parents lived in small towns on the outskirts of Guadalajara and emigrated to the U.S. in hopes of giving my siblings and I a better future than what they had. My parents worked tirelessly at a factory until my father saved enough money and started his own restaurant in Chicago –a modest little Hispanic restaurant, where he had us studying while we learned the value of a dollar. With my father at work at his restaurant, my mother was able to quit her job and raise my siblings and me; we were encouraged to do well in school and explore what we would like to do with our lives.

Growing up, some of my fondest memories of my father was being taught how to count in Spanish as well as watching several documentaries in both English and Spanish. In a household in which both parent’s struggled to speak Spanish, I quickly learned that my siblings and I would help teach our parents English as they had us communicate in Spanish when at home. The majority of my cultural knowledge comes from my mother’s emphasis on my colorful background and keeping familiar with our Mexican traditions. With an elementary education, my mother emphasized our understanding of the courses in school and had us do homework in her sight in an effort to avoid being distracted. She made it abundantly clear that she did not have the opportunity to attend school as much as my siblings and I, because of the ranch lifestyle she was raised in.

A prominent memory I have is a moment in which I asked my father why he didn’t want us to succeed him and take up his business. My father had sat me down and explained that the life he had built for himself was good – coming from little to achieving a restaurant that made enough to keep his kids clothed and in school meant everything to him. He then elaborated and told me he wanted much more for my siblings and I – he wanted to see us adapted and well informed of the world around us with careers such as doctors, teachers, engineers and other admirable careers.

Fast forward several years, I’d find myself in high school weighing out my options in universities and anxiously awaiting my enrollment in driver’s ed. It was at this time, my sophomore year, when I realized who I truly was – an illegal immigrant who came here legally. The idea itself seemed like an oxymoron to me – how can I possibly be an illegal immigrant? I had no recollection of Mexico and the only life I had was here in Illinois. The concept itself made me uneasy at the time; I had done so well in school to apply for a college that I was coming to realize I would not be able to attend anyways. I quickly went with my school’s counselor and asked them to elaborate on what this meant for my academic journey. When my counselor had explained the possibilities that I no longer had, I felt the weight of the world exhausting my optimistic outlook on life. My entire life had revolved around adopting an American lifestyle; the hard work my parents put forth felt like it was all in vein. Ironically enough, my entire life growing up I was always been known as the ‘white boy’ as my complexity never rendered the idea of being anything but Caucasian – so to hear that I was everything but in terms of opportunities left me in despair. Being illegal, there is no sense of identification, at one spectrum I felt like I was a normal American citizen, I spoke the language quite well, I had taken advanced courses, I had not committed any crimes, and neither did my parents. However, after finding out the reality of the circumstances, I felt unidentifiable, I was the only illegal student I had, and still, personally know. There’s a sense of confusion that followed after every conversation that revolved around my position in terms of school as well as every other milestone a teenager accomplishes. Having to explain to my fellow peers and mentors why I wouldn’t be able to attend a university almost felt as though I telling a terrible joke. Unfortunately, this was nothing in comparison from what was to come.

It was that same year when my father had fallen ill and had endured two strokes that landed him in to a coma. My father remained in a coma and remained in a vegetated state which required us to take care of him at home with the help of hospice workers. It was around this time where I attribute a lot of my self-reliance. Unfortunately, my father’s organs slowly stopped functioning till he passed away my junior year of high school. Not only a year after my father explained my legal status, he passed away and left my family and I unprepared for the lifestyle that was to come. Along with my father, his business as well as the majority of our possessions were lost. My mother, older brother and I relocated to three different homes and constantly adapted to our new surroundings. Having been first generation and unfamiliar with the entire experience, we were afraid to seek legal consultation and remained in the dark.

Despite my father’s passing, my values as well as desire to keep studying did not falter. I maintained my advanced placement courses and graduated with honors. I attended several state competitions for computer aided design, and ranked second in state. While my friends were applying to universities and discussing FAFSA, I was discussing the possibility of finding a job to allow me to help pay whatever I could as my mom was trying to find a job and keep a roof over our head. I managed to find a janitorial position as well as a real estate assistant at a local office and was paid $4 an hour cash in hopes of helping my mother pay for utilities. It was at this time when DACA was going through senate and being discussed when I felt I had the opportunity to get back in to school. I spent the absolute minimum to save enough money for my legal fees that a lawyer would charge for managing my DACA application when it was around this time that my mother sat me down. My mother told me I had no other option but to go to school and achieve a better life – had I decided to do otherwise would to have seen my parent’s work end in vein.

It comes with great pleasure to say that two years later, after bouncing through jobs and attending two – three hour courses after a full day’s work, I recently received my Associates in Science and have a full time Engineering position with intentions to attend a four-year university and achieving a Bachelors in Engineering Sciences. As the first of my siblings to receive some form of a degree, my self-reliance is what pushes me to seek more information regarding transferring into a university and making my goal a reality. Not only to accomplish and make my family proud, but to break the mold and demonstrate to society that all immigrants have potential to make great contributions despite the decisions their parents made. With a generation eager to learn and no strangers to hardships, I believe that undocumented students that desire to pursue a higher education are more than qualified to attend a university and participate with their fellow documented peers.

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Categories: Navigating college

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2 replies

  1. Rodrigo, I encourage you to keep moving forward. You are a success story. Thanks for sharing your story. BTW I am also from Guadalajara🙂

  2. Thank you Rodrigo for sharing your story. By doing so, you are reaching out and helping so many others!

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