Yesenia Rodriguez seeked a land of opportunity.
It was 1981 and 7-year-old Rodriguez packed her vital necessities from her home in El Salvador. She packed lightly, keeping mobility in mind. With her younger sister and a group of strangers, Rodriguez crossed the U.S. border through Mexico, her father serving as el coyote (the travel guide).
Jose Berrios had a similar experience. He left El Salvador with a family friend and cousin at the age of 8.
After crossing the border, he settled in Los Angeles and had to relearn a new language, a new culture. As did Rodriguez.
Ten years later, Rodriguez met Berrios at Hollywood High. Although the high school sweethearts did not earn their diploma, they lived a hard-working and earnest life. After obtaining residency, Rodriguez worked multiple jobs as a housekeeper, nanny and assistant. Berrios worked as a restaurant manager until he became disabled. All the while raising their two daughters Jennifer Elizabeth, 19, and Jessica, 18, who both earned their high school diploma.
On June 16, billionaire and business magnate Donald Trump announced his run for the 2016 presidential election.
During his commencement speech, Trump addressed America’s immigration policies by stating Mexicans bring “drugs,” “crime” and “rapists” when crossing the U.S. border. Trump also promised to “build a great wall” to “prevent immigration.”
In response to Trump’s controversial comments, Spanish broadcasting station Univision as well as NBC notified the public that they would not be airing the Miss Universe pageant. Macy’s has also cut ties with Trump.
“In relation to the presidential race, Trump failed to recognize all of the successful and hard-working Latinos who do such good for the country- which is a big mistake on his part considering many of us are legal and able to vote,” Jennifer Elizabeth said. “We also have many friends who won’t stand for racism, both immigrants and non-immigrants.”
According to an annual UCLA survey, there are 7.3 million full-time undergraduates enrolled in public and private four-year institutions. Of those, roughly 20% are first-generation college students.
Such is the case of Jennifer Elizabeth Berrios.
“When applying to college, I struggled to know how to highlight my best self,” Jennifer said. “No one in my family had any experience with college applications so the whole process was entirely new to me.”
Through her uncertainty, Jennifer attended Daniel Pearl Magnet High as a freshman in 2009. During her high school career, she was the president of a community service organization called Interact, student body president, secretary for the School Site Council, participant in the choir, a prefect for a school-wide program and attended leadership. She also received a National Hispanic Recognition award for her outstanding achievements while maintaining a 4.3 GPA.
Likewise, she was accepted to her dream college since elementary school, USC, in 2013.
“When I got accepted to my first choice it felt amazing. I felt proud, excited and so incredibly happy that I had gotten to the next step in my life plan,” Jennifer said. “There was some yelling and a whole lot of smiling.”
Jennifer is currently a civil engineering major at USC and aspires to work in construction once she graduates in 2017.
But would this have occurred if Yesenia Rodriguez didn’t cross the U.S. border? What if Jose Berrios had been robbed of a dream because of a great wall?
As the late professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Randy Pausch said in his last lecture, “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
Immigrants crossing the U.S. border continue to believe strongly in the American Dream. With the small hope of a better future, immigrants are crafting a newer and better America with first generation scholars.
“The majority of immigrants who come to the U.S. come to seek better lives, with a minority seeking to get involved in criminal activity,” Jennifer said. “I think it’s unfair to generalize an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.”