The Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute Blog
Blog Post by Flor Reyes-Silvestre(Lehman College, 2014 Becaria)
I was born in Mexico and, at the age of three, I immigrated to the United States. My parents met in the campos outside Mexico City, where my mom had gone to high school but my dad only made it through middle school. They said they wanted their children to have access to better education than they had so they came to the United States. I grew up each day in Brooklyn, living my Mexican culture and embodying its traditions, celebrating our independent spirit, spicy foods and all the Mexican holidays, as well as the American ones. Along with the joys of my culture, I also became aware of the struggles that young Mexican- Americans face when it comes to trying to attain higher education. I know what it feels like to start school and not know a word of English. I sympathized the most with those who enter the country unknowingly as youngsters and who learn too late they do not have papers only when they try to earn a college degree. I too am an undocumented student and have worked my hardest to access a college education, and in this pursuit have experienced one roadblock after another. I am part a family who is not fortunate enough to live a life of luxuries; my dad left us to return to Mexico and my mom supports six children alone with the little money she makes as a Mexican food vendor. We could not afford a house, car, name brand clothes shoes or vacations. Money was always the biggest roadblock as I applied to college, since I learned that I could not receive financial aid from the government. My mom was constantly worried that since I could not afford college, I would not be able to continue my educational career by attending college. Luckily with the help of my incredible college counselor I found out about the CUNY Becas Scholarship. I worked through the application process and at last submitted my application. Not much later I received an award letter, letting me know that, I had become a Becas recipient. Words could not describe the joy and relief that I had felt at that moment. From then on, I became a Becaria as well as part of the Becari@s network.
Being a Becaria has opened so many doors in ways I would have never imagined. In high school, I thought I was very involved both inside and outside of school. Once I came into college I came to realize that I could do so much more. I wasn't quite sure what career path I wanted to take so I tried my best to do a little bit of everything. I knew I always like helping people, but I wasn't sure in what aspect. In my high school, I was the only one who was undocumented, so my experience was quite different. I didn't have any personal connections with anyone else who was undocumented other than my relatives. I was afraid to reach out to strangers as well as leave my confort zone because I feared that there was a risk in doing so. As a current becaria this fear has been greatly lifted off of my shoulders. I was provided with a network of other students who I would in fact have things in common with. Not only that, but they each have incredible stories about their struggle in the U.S to gain a good education. Many of the Becari@s are great activist within their community, who fight for equal opportunity to education in various forms. I am proud to call them my brothers and sisters because the world needs more people like us. We have the odds against us, and yet we still strive to attain the best possible education we can get. We're more than a support group, we're family and together we are all widening the education opportunities for those who are to come after us.
Blog Post by Amalia Rojas (Lehman College, 2014 Becaria)
Since the age of twelve I have battled with depression. The constant search of filling an empty space that would really fulfill me as an individual is my biggest problem. Art has helped me fill this void. I have always loved art. Any form of expression is a safe haven for me. I have always had an urge to tell stories. So where do I begin to tell mine?
My name is Amalia Oliva Rojas, I was born in Ecatepec, Mexico. I am one of four children, to be precise the middle child. Prior to my birth my parents had been living in New York. Two weeks before I was born exactly eight months into pregnancy my mother became fearful and fled back to Mexico. I was uprooted from Mexico to the United States at the mere age of two months. My entire childhood, I grew up under the assumption that I was an American born citizen. All I knew was the Spanglish that rolled off my tongue, the cold New York winters, and that I loved Selena Quintanilla. My parents never allowed their legal status to stand in their way. They worked hard despite the legal barriers they had. They worked hard even if it meant risking their security. Due to my parents work hours, I spent a lot of time with babysitters, learning to be independent. As I grew older, I dealt with bullying at school and bullying at home. Despite all this, I grew into my art. I painted, using charcoals and crayons to express myself, to release the “pain” inside me. By High school, I discovered my voice as a poet and as a theatre artist. Theater saved my life. Through theater, I discovered my own utopia. I was able to polish my own voice. I discovered how to use my body to express myself, I was able to learn to live many lives and never be judged for it. I learned my presence on and off stage mattered. I mattered.
I focused my entire high school career on being the best in my department, I was eager to learn and grow, constantly looking for outside programs to further nourish my craft. I aimed for high grades with all the hopes of getting into my dream colleges. In April of 2010, Sarah Lawrence and the University of California Los Angeles as a Theater major had accepted me. At the age of seventeen, I felt heard and invincible. Until, I was asked to complete FAFSA. FASFA required me to write my social security number. The same day I asked for it, my mother nonchalantly said, “You don’t have one”. I can still remember clearly how cold my hands felt and how I couldn’t think of anything. I simply remember grabbing my book bag and leaving my house. Who was I? Where did I begin? Where did I end? My parents had withheld my status from me, out of fear of me limiting myself. Aware of the limitations that come with being undocumented, my parents wanted me free from that until I finished high school. However, as much as they did allow me to stretch my wings- within five minutes of telling me the truth, they clipped them, feather by feather. High school graduation, I sat by myself and fidgeted with my hands- It was over. In my head I had officially become no one. I had worked so hard for nothing. No one would ever see it, see me. A year later, I found myself working three jobs, occasionally taking art classes and in the deepest depression I had ever experienced. I found myself constantly thinking of ways to end myself. Perhaps no one but DREAMers like myself may understand this, but I felt betrayed, useless and torn by the only country I knew. On plenty occasions, I was close to self-deporting myself. All I wanted was to go to school, I just wanted to go to school.
As I write this, I am experiencing nostalgia, I am only three semesters away from graduating with a BA in what I love most, Theater. It has taken me close to six years to get where I am, multiple jobs in one day, juggling school and sleepless nights. Although, I am still battling with my issues- through these six years I have learned so much. For most of my college career I have been on scholarships, meaning institutions have invested me. An investment I have taken personally, and all the more am thankful. Prior to being a Becari@, I was anguished and worried about how to continue school. I was entering my junior year and had to on occasions walk to school because paying for tuition would leave me with no money for my commute. BECAS has provided not only with tuition assistance but also with a family. A family of fellow becari@s who have held me when I have been at my worst and have made me laugh the hardest. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this piece to my fellow becari@s: to those who feel lost in pain like me but are too busy to show it- to those who juggle family and school- to all of us because despite the challenges we have encountered, seguimos adelante!
“It will take more than papers to ever justify me
I am more than that
I am the words that I speak and the air that I breathe
I am not your amnesty
I am not settling to be oppressed
I am a brown womyn that will progress”
Blog Post by Diego Hernandez (Lehman College, 2014 Becario)
My family came to the US from Mexico in 1994 first settling in Hells Kitchen and later moving to El Barrio, where we stayed. Growing up, my parents never hid the fact that my older brother and I were undocumented. This reality was always troubling for me growing up, not because I couldn’t get an ID (schools I went to issued them since elementary) or a car or driver’s license (I still don’t have one). Rather, because I wasn’t able to visit my homeland, my family members, my history. I had what I call a “normal” life living in El Barrio: friends, fights, love, cops, and I wouldn’t change it if I had the choice. I went into high school in 2006 at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, but soon began failing my courses. Because I had few credits, I had to transfer to Independence High School, an alternative school, on my junior year. I managed to improve my grades and was on my way to graduate when my school counselor informed me I could, and suggested I apply to CUNY. He had informed me I was able to attend as an undocumented student. I submitted the application after much hesitation, and later went on to graduate on time (2010). Later that summer I received notice I had been accepted to a college, but now how was I to pay?
I began a full time job over the summer at a restaurant working nights in order to help my father pay for my tuition. As I quickly noticed, as long as tuition is paid, in my case in full, your status does not matter. However, as I later found out, paying for my education would become more expensive because of the CUNY Tuition hikes implemented, $300 every year, until 2015. My first semester at La Guardia Community College as a full time student didn’t go well. Not having the educational disciple necessary coupled with a full-time job, I failed most of my classes. The following semester was different however. I was able to balance both work and school and began to improve my grades. This is also around the time I began to learn about organizing and later went on to co-found People Power LaGuardia Club with other students.
However, in 2013, I was arrested and faced the possibility of being placed in Deportation proceedings. Luckily, because of the networks I had made, I met Families For Freedom who helped me along the course of my case. They educated me in matters surrounding my case, like knowing my rights and the nexus between the criminal justice and Immigration systems. I was able to get a Pro-bono lawyer and beat the case while simultaneously finishing my last year at Laguardia strong; I made it to the Deans List that year. That experience has shown me the significance in community support and the need to fight for the self-determination of it. I graduated in August 2013 with a Liberal Arts Associate Degree in International Studies.
After graduating, I took a year and a half break because I needed to save up for tuition. I heard of the CUNY Becas though a professor I met outside of academia who strongly recommended I apply. Because of the Beca, I now attend Lehman College where I am majoring in Political Science and in the process of registering for a minor in Mexican Studies. It has also allowed me to focus on academics more, not on how to pay for it. In the future, I plan on continuing onto Graduate School or a PhD Program, ideally at University of Austin Texas.
Not only involved academically at school, during the semester, I helped organize a Day of the Dead event at the Institute. This event was not only used to dedicate the people who had lost their lived due to the war on drugs in Mexico, as well as to raise awareness about the recent case of missing students in Mexico. All students of a rural teachers college, 43 males went disappeared after being taken in by state forces on September 26, 2014. Being a student of low income I connected with the struggle of the students in Mexico under considerably different conditions.
Blog Post by Jennifer Martinez (Lehman College, 2014 Becaria)
My family moved to Yonkers, New York, when I was five years old. My parents wanted to provide my sisters and me with the education they couldn’t have. Even thenthat I had to do everything in my power to succeed academically, but I had little understanding of how hard this would be. As I walked inside my new school, I heard words that I did not understand. Teachers surrounded me and it seemed like they all wanted something from me. I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there wishing that they would go away. I looked for my mom, but I was on my own. As I knew no English, all I could do was smile and nod. When I got home I cried and begged my mom to take me back to Mexico. Every day during the first month at school, I put my book bag in the closet and put my head down on my desk. I had given up. Then one day I realized I didn’t even know how to ask to go to the bathroom; I was unable to meet my own basic needs.
I knew that giving up wasn’t an option. It wouldn’t allow me to accomplish what I was here to do. My parents could only do so much to help me in school, as they spoke limited English. I was on my own. I summoned up the strength and determination I once thought I lacked. I was ready to face the challenge that had once been impossible to overcome. I was terrified, but deep down I knew this was an obstacle I couldn’t turn away from. I walked up to my new teacher and askeddo I sit?” I was determined to learn English; I wanted to make my parents proud. Every day I would sit at the kitchen table in our small apartment with the over-sized dictionary that barely fit in my hands. In school I would get a weekly vocabulary list from my teacherI’d decipher every word looking for the translation from English to Spanish. I also practiced English every day with my dad. Mastering the English language wasn’t always easy, but my hard work allowed me to be a member of the class.
Today, I am an intern at the San Andres-Episcopal Church After School Program. Many of the San Andres students are facing the same obstacles I did upon my arrival to the United States. These students come from hardworking immigrant families that have left everything behind in order to provide a brighter future for their children. I am inspired by the San Andres afterschool students’ desire to work hard and make their parents proud. Every time I sit next to a student I remember how I felt when I read my first book in English. I remember the feeling I had after saying, “no te preocupes mama, yo le pregunto.” I work with them and make sure they pronounce every word correctly, because I know these students will soon become their families’ translators. These students are the dreamers in their families; they are the ones who provide hope for their families during hard times; they will be the first in their families to graduate high school and have dreams of attending college. I am excited to work alongside the students at the San Andres Episcopal Church, because working with them reminds me that something very powerful is keeping us in this country: a dream that many students and parents share. A dream that makes us forget about all the bad moments we experience. A dream that allows us to replace fear with bravery and determination. Above all, a dream that has power among undocumented families.
Becoming a Becari@ has been a life changing experience. Meeting past and current Becari@s has allowed me to understand who the becari@s are; agents of change, activists, advocates for everyone regardless of citizenship status, race, or gender, fighters, risk takers, and most importantly students who refuse to give up their dreams and the dreams of others.
Blog Post by Edgar Morales (Lehman College, 2013 & 2014 Becario)
Our life in the 21st century goes hand-to-hand with smartphones, laptops, tablets, iPods, televisions, etc. Every one of these accessories comes with different applications designed for specific tasks, from the simple ones like a calculator to some complex programs like bank applications or even games to pass away time. There are an enormous amount of applications that it is easy to think that creating an application can be effortless to do. However, there is some hard thinking behind every application. This is the experience from a student who has successfully written a code for a simple asteroid game.
“Alright guys, this is the second project that you’ll need to complete in order to pass the class… this project is harder than the first project. Don’t give up.” These were the words that my computer science professor said by mid-semester; these words were as exciting as frightening at the same time. Computer Scientists are responsible for developing most of the applications we use in our daily lives, but who would have thought that writing an asteroids-game program would be so challenging by involving advanced mathematics and physics formulas. “By the way, don’t forget that you still have to upload our regular homework every Tuesday and Thursday while on Wednesday you have to upload different parts of your asteroids project. Have a nice day!” This final sentence caused every one of my classmates to sigh and make a facial expression that said “sure, as though we did not have homework for other classes and outside work to do.” However, I had always wanted to create a video game so this project filled me with excitement. I was excited just imagining all of the features and effects that I would like to incorporate to my spaceship and asteroids game such as lasers, missiles, enemies, different levels, high scores, and explosions.
As a Becario of two consecutive years, the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute has accepted me for the second time as intern and provided me its space. Space that I consider, a second home where people understand the struggles a student has to go through. Every staff member was understanding of my situation. They offered me one of their computers in order to write the code for my program. Four days went by and I had not even made my spaceship appear on the screen. I spent most of my nights trying to figure out a way to write the code for my ship but every one of my attempts led me to failure. By the end of the semester I was able to finish my asteroids-game project; my ship was now able to fly across the screen avoiding the crash against the deadly and huge asteroids. Although I could not add all of the features I had planned because I had other final exams to confront as our semester had almost finished. I felt great satisfaction with the game I had created.
Once the fall semester of 2014 ended, the winter break that many had been waiting for in order to relax and hang out with friends had finally arrived. But my case was a little different compared to my classmates or friends. This winter break is, in some aspects, very similar to other breaks I have had; working as a contractor building and fixing apartments. The fall semester was mentally exhausting but construction is physically exhausting, there was a little time to relax. A new guy came to work without knowing anything related to construction and he became my “chalan”. We started to talk in order to know each other. When I told him that I am a college student he simply looked at me and said “echale muchas ganas al estudio, hay muchas oportunidades haya afuera pero por falta de educacion personas como yo no podemos aprovecharlas. Sigue con tu sueño de ser programador.” Experiences like this always remind me of how lucky I am to be able to continue my college education thanks to the CUNY-Becas program. The beca opened the road to my college experience for the fall semester of 2013, my freshman year. As a first generation student, I was not completely confident about the actions I was taking in college because no one in my family had studied at a college level. Furthermore, talking about an American college was an unfamiliar topic to my family, but the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute via the CUNY-Becas programs led me through this unknown path.
My name is Edgar Morales, I am an undocumented immigrant born and raised in Mexico that has been living in New York for only four years. I have lived some breath-taking moments on my way to United States and since I arrived to New York more experiences have accumulated in my life that giving up on my goal as a computer scientist is not an option. This goal of mine is not a dream but an ambition. I value all the support that I am getting. I do not think about disappointing anyone because I know and have endured all of the hard work that it takes for someone to save money, this gift of la beca must not be taken for granted.
Blog Post by Suleyma Cuellar (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 2014 Becaria)
With my sophomore year around the corner, I was faced with the harsh reality that this year was going to be economically difficult for my family and me. If that was not enough in February my mom found out that she had a pulmonary embolism and she was two months pregnant. The news hit my family hard. Since that day my dad struggled to pay the bills and I started to think that I had to leave my studies to help my family. As the months went by my schoolwork was disrupted.
During class I would spend time thinking about different scenarios of what could happen to my mom. I became a mom figure for my younger siblings and this affected me negatively. I thought I was not going to be able to balance work, school, and my responsibilities at home. However, everything changed when I met Professor Roure. She spoke to me and as I got to know her better I found refuge in her office. I found a person who I could go to and let everything out without fear of being judged. She was not only the one who motivated me but she helped me apply for CUNY Becas. Moreover, she trusted me in a way no other professor has trusted me before. She believed in me, which gave me self-confidence to preserver. Thanks to God I received the scholarship. Receiving the scholarship has lifted a burden off my family's shoulder. I was able to focus on my studies without having to think about how to pay for college.
Additionally, this scholarship has giving me the opportunity to meet inspiring people such as Carlota Zimmerman. Carlota has made a positive impact in my life. She has given me feedback that has helped me think of the different career paths I can take. She has also helped me connect with my writing once again, which has opened more doors to other possible scholarships. Carlota understood my needs and is one of the people I look up to. I can go to her when I need help especially when I want to share my writing. She is always ready to give me feedback and help me improve as a writer.
CUNY Becas has giving me the opportunity to strive for my goal of having a career as a social worker and writer. Without this scholarship I would have not have been able to continue with my studies and I would not be able to pay off my studies. I give thanks to God for giving me this opportunity.
Blog Post by Irma Cruz (College of Staten Island, 2013 & 2014 CUNY Becaria)
I was born in Mexico City, Los Reyes La Paz. My mom wanted my younger sister and I to have a better education, so she decided to immigrate with us to the United States. I found it very difficult to assimilate to the new way of life. My main goal is and has always been to obtain a higher education degree. I also seek to create a safe haven for people who are living in the “shadows”. Therefore, I have devoted my life to school and to my community.
Obtaining a better education has always been a major challenge. About thirteen years ago, my mother, one of my younger sisters and I traveled from Mexico to Texas to see my father. My mom allowed my sister and I to stay in Texas for one school year before coming to Staten Island to finally live with her. Unfortunately, my time in Texas was traumatic due to being raped by an unknown man. I was only six years old. This trauma and the lack of knowing the English language caused me to struggle in speaking, writing and comprehending English. It also led me to fall into a deep depression to the point of almost committing suicide. After two to three years of being on Staten Island, I finally confessed the sexual abuse to a school guidance counselor. In school I received private therapy, improved and began to get the hang of things. This allowed me to find the self confidence I needed to defeat the emotional and language barrier struggles. Along with the encouragement of my mother, who told me that my only job was to get an education, be successful, and put my best foot forward to accomplish anything I desired. I was accepted to The College of Staten Island, where I plan to graduate as an Educator of Spanish, particularly for students in English Second Language and Special Education programs.
I was the first in my family to go to college. Although it was scary originally, I found great mentors and went on to achieve a high GPA that earned me a place on the Dean’s List. Through hard work I progressed in my college career and I am about to be granted a Certificate for Latin American Studies. Within my Education program I have observed high school, middle school, and college classes in session. I will be starting my student teaching next semester at a local middle school.
As much as I dreamed of completing my degree in order to help others achieve their own educational goals affording the tuition was very difficult despite the many hours I worked each week. Thankfully, I was selected for the second time for the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Scholarship program. This program has allowed me to pursue my two main goals. I was able to intern at Project Hospitality and El Centro Del Inmigrante, where I directly helped the community. I was able to help empower the community and provide a variety of services, and a variety of services. For the two years I interned at these organizations I was able to not only help people, but sharpen some skills and develop new ones. I’m now able to bring these skills to the table whenever help is needed.
I was enthusiastic to intern at Project Hospitality because of the great work I had already observed from their staff. Shortly after Super Storm Sandy hit a few blocks from my home I joined Project Hospitality to distribute food, water, clothing, and supplies to the survivors. Additionally, I conducted intakes for financial services and coordinated a Sunday afternoon volunteer legal clinic that provided free legal services for Sandy victims. It has been a while since this tragic event occurred, but families are still very much in need. I continue my service to them. This has fostered my dedication, efficiency, rapid learning of social services, and compassion toward Sandy affected families. I have done a great amount of work specifically with undocumented immigrant families, mostly Mexican, but also with many other immigrant communities as well.
I’m honored to say that after my internship was over the Executive Director of Project Hospitality asked me if I would like to become a Certified NY State of Health Navigator. It was shocking at first, but I was determined to get the certification and help individuals and families (especially those undocumented individuals and families) shop for and enroll in health insurance coverage programs. I assist them in calculating costs and selecting coverage online, in-person, over the phone or by mail. Finally, I check for their eligibility for health care programs such as Medicaid and sign them up for these programs if they are eligible. For me, health always comes first. I have worked with clients who are college students, parents, grandparents, etc. I have seen how difficult it is for them to live a healthy balanced life while trying to keep up with medical payments. Especially in impoverished communities, health is often put on the back-burner because residents are consumed by responsibilities. Therefore, I decided to take the offer and make a difference in people’s lives through my internships.
Through my internships I managed every event dealing with youth rights. I was astonished to see that I have the ability to organize and successfully execute events, ranging from the smallest one to the most impossible one. For example, I served on a leadership team for an Eye Openers DREAM Summit and an Eye Openers Social Justice Youth Summit. I was the youth leader and organizer for a 55 plus seat bus, filled with undocumented Mexican immigrant youth who traveled to Washington, D.C. for a national rally on behalf of immigration reform. My role was to coordinate all details of the trip; registration, bus arrangements, food, permission slips, overnight accommodations, bus clean up, bus captains, return home, and group supervision in D.C. Never would I have imagined that I would have been able to not only organize a group of community youth members and staff, but also be able to inspire them to eagerly travel to make their voices heard in order to make positive change in immigration reform. I felt a very warm and tingly feeling! I knew from that instance that I could do so much more to help individuals achieve their life goals.
I have also coordinated and presented workshops on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I had very few public speaking skills, but with the opportunities I had during my internship, I was able to develop these skills and continue improving throughout time. It was difficult at first standing in front of a massive audience staring straight at me, but after much practice I started to enjoy it. It was pleasurable and a great way to meet, speak, and listen to the community. Somehow I was able to lower the anxiety level and prepare individuals for the application process. Nothing simple, but as my mom says, “nothing is impossible.”
Before the Becas Program I was an unhopeful student. I wanted to do so many things but was unable to because of my legal status. I was offered well-paying jobs, internships, and full-ride scholarships, but I was unable to take advantage of them because I lacked those nine digits. As I found myself trapped and helpless, I learned about the program and could see it was possible to be undocumented and still continue one’s college. I feel close to my fellow Becas Scholars and I share a sincere sense of family with all of them. We all aim to succeed professionally in our future careers and in our personal lives for the better of our community.
Blog Post and letter to Chancellor Milliken by Jesus Benitez (La Guardia Community College 2014 Becario)
Dear Chancellor Milliken:
My name is Jesus Benitez and I am a student at LaGuardia Community College. I am writing to share my experience about how the CUNY Fatherhood Academy within LaGuardia Community College has changed my life and to appeal to you to help us save the CUNY Fatherhood Academy. Unfortunately, we are no longer going to be able to support other young fathers to better their lives, as the program has not been refunded. It is hard to imagine that the program that changed my life will no longer be available to other young fathers. Without the support of the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, I would simply not be in the position I am. I write to you because, when I met you, you seemed to be the type of person who is sensitive to helping others and making a difference within and outside CUNY. I am confident you will understand what I am about to share with you and I hope you will look to assist us in helping to save the CUNY Fatherhood Academy.
In short, what the CUNY Fatherhood Academy aims to do is to strengthen fathers and families by promoting responsible fatherhood and economic stability through education and employment for 18-24 year-olds. The CUNY Fatherhood Academy helps to prepare students to obtain their High School Equivalency Diploma and also enroll in College. However, in order for you to know how much the CUNY Fatherhood Academy impacted my life, I need to share some of my own history with you.
I was born and raised in the Bronx. Growing up in my neighborhood I did not hear people talking about college nor did I have an example to follow. My family has always teetered on the edge of poverty since arriving in this country from Mexico. I was raised by my mother, a single parent who had no choice but to work two jobs to support our family. When my mother was at work, as the oldest of four, I helped take care of the needs of my brothers and sisters and provided guidance as best as I could, however I was really just a kid myself. Eventually, at the age of 13, in order to make my mom’s life a little easier, I got a job working as a cashier. Because I did not like school and I was making money to support myself and my family, I was slowly but surely lured away from education.
At the age of 17, I became a father, so I dropped out of school to support my own family full-time. When my son was a year and a half old, his mother left and I became a single parent. I worked intensively and even had 7 part-time jobs at one point. Due to the fact I lacked a father figure in my own life, I know how important it is for me to be a role model for my son. As of now I am the only person to provide guidance to my son. This responsibility has brought us closer together; showing me how much we need one another and helping me learn some important things about myself. Watching him grow and develop made me realize that I needed to change my life so that I could provide more options for him. Eventually it became clear to me that I needed to go back to school.
As quickly as I made that commitment to myself and my son, I was soon introduced to the CUNY Fatherhood Academy and decided to see what it was all about. Since I was a single father I did not believe I would able to attend college. My mindset was only to provide my son with what he needed and help him grow in life. In other words, to have the kind of career I dreamed of was not even an option. I slowly began to trust Raheem Brooks and David Speal, the program coordinators, who were the ones to give me the push I needed not only to dream of eventually getting 2 PhDs in Philosophy and Public affairs and double minoring in Latino Studies and Spanish but to set me on a path with the tools to make that possible.
Thinking about my progress in the CUNY Fatherhood Academy makes me realize how crucial it was in inspiring me to continue my education and advance to college. The Academy helped me realize that my dreams were not over because I was a single father. This alone was priceless. Furthermore, as a result of my experience with the Academy, I decided to get more involved with my community and to help the CUNY Fatherhood Academy expand its network throughout the City.
One day, one of my mentors, Mr. Brooks, sent me a link and told me to apply for the CUNY Becas Scholarship. My other mentor, Mr. Speal, helped me revise my essays and apply for the scholarship. These are the kind of people they are: they are passionately committed to everyone that participates in the Academy. Because of them, I am now a Becario (Scholarship recipient from the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at CUNY) and I met a group of leaders that I now consider my family with whom I fight to change the world.
We have many fathers that attended the CUNY Fatherhood Academy who decided to change their own destinies. We call ourselves the Cycle-Breakers because we dared to step out of our comfort zones and push past a number of limitations in our lives to achieve our dreams. It was not easy. I personally had to deal with a 6 year gap away from school and readapting to a school environment to obtain my HSE diploma was a huge adjustment. At one point I was ready to drop out but I was persuaded not to by other fathers in the Academy. These are the kind of fathers that attend the program, ones that look out for each other.
Now, let me share you the program statistics:
We had 173 students enrolled in the CUNY Fatherhood Academy over five 16-week semesters
136 students completed the program
76 students were placed in jobs and 35 students obtained internships
56 out of 103 earned their High School Equivalency Diploma
21 students have enrolled in college
Even though we are not fully funded, we are still focusing on helping the remaining fathers pass their High School Equivalency Exams, obtain employment and prepare for college. It is a program like the CUNY Fatherhood Academy that truly makes a difference within the community because no matter what happens, they never give up on you. We fight for the fathers that truly want to become Cycle-Breakers. They deserve the same opportunity I had and I hope we will be able to continue to provide that.
After reading about my experience and seeing how committed we are at the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, I hope we can have further opportunities to discuss the program and the ways we can work together to save the Academy. I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Sincerely,Jesus A Benitez
Blog Post by Jazmin Cruz (John Jay College of Criminal Justice)
For the past few months I have been interning at El Consulado General de México en Nueva York, and I honestly would not have picked a better site to complete my first internship. Going in, I must say, I was really nervous. Nervous, because being my first internship I had no idea what to expect. I picked it because I wanted the “office” experience and I was looking for a way to connect with me Mexican heritage.
Growing up, I can say my household was in a way an “Americanized” household, although I must say my aunt’s pozole on Christmas is something I still look forward to. My dad was always working, and when my sister moved here from Mexico, she was always busy. Interning at El Consulado gave me a first hand experience to reconnect with my culture through all the cultural events they host. When the event for September 15 was held, I was overwhelmed. Mexico has such a beautiful way of life and for some time I felt it had been taken away from me. I was born over there, and so I remember something. I remember drinking ponche during New Year’s celebration in my dad’s village. I remember the open space of el monte. Moving over to an entire new city was strange and overwhelming. I could no longer go visit the river afterschool. In a way, in this new city I’d say that my father turned very fearful and over protective. Never the less, having the best of both worlds made me realize the struggles of some and the luxuries of others.
Not only has my internship connected me with my roots the events I have attended with los Becari@s have been really amazing. I feel more connected to my Mexican roots while working towards my graduation date. Receiving this scholarship this academic year was a boost of motivation to continue working towards my degree. My father has been saving for my college education since we arrived from Mexico, but due to other expenses, I often have to ask myself if I will be financially stable for the next semester. This scholarship alongside its requirements has been a very important aspect of my academic career. Interning at El Consulado, has taught me how to better understand the needs of my community and how to contribute back to them. The requirement of the internship has really opened many doors for me. Jobs always need experience, and we all have to start somewhere.
I look forward to continue working with El Consulado to help the community in every way possible and to help others connect with their Mexican roots like myself.===========================================================================================================================
Blog Post by Marili Muñoz (Kingsborough Community College)
I thought I had an understanding of my cultural identity and I thought I knew my full potential. However, becoming a 2014 Becari@ was transformational for me. I rediscovered my cultural identity and most importantly, I now know my real potential. As a member of CUNY Becas, one of the requirements was to attend to a mandatory three-day orientation in the Catskills Mountains at Frost Valley YMCA camp. There, I have found myself and my identity; the one I had forgotten in order to fit into American culture. This remarkable experience at the orientation has given me the push I needed to stand up and move forward with my goals.
Thanks to CUNY Becas, I did not have to take another semester off to work and save up for college. This scholarship has liberated me of my financial worries and struggles for the academic year from spring 2014 to fall 2014. I am also able to be a full time student again instead of being only part-time. CUNY Becas has not only helped me financially but also has a support and advisory team that has always been willing to help me with the school process. The Jaime Lucero Institute of Mexican studies takes the credit for many of the Becari@s’ personal development through the monthly seminars.
The first seminar that had a positive impact on me was with Carlota Zimmerman. She advised Becari@s with the interview process, such as writing resumes and cover letters, and on ways to dress professionally for work. Carlota has taught us how important it is to expand our networks and to seek opportunities. I didn’t know the value of expanding networks until she explained the important on how to approach people and to demonstrate our potential. In addition, she has given me a free private consultation in which she helped with my medical school search. Carlota is a great life coach, she has encourage me to never give up unless I gave it my best to accomplish those goals.
Furthermore, as a DACA applicant I have been able to be part of CUNY Service Corps, a paid internship from CUNY, which prepares students for the real world by bringing the opportunity to work with an organization that gives us the real work experience base on our interests. I was selected to work with Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT) which is also linked with CUNY Becas’ internship service. Although my biology major is different from the focus of my internship, I hope to connect this internship to CUNY Becari@s and Service Corps by helping the immigrant community. Through my service at the internship, I wish to empower the immigrant community by connecting them to education. Our program Anchoring Achievement in Mexican Communities focuses on helping the Mexican community as a whole by aiding teenagers who have dropped out of high school or who are not working. Through this program, teenagers learn and improve computers skills, prepare for jobs interviews, and are placed in an internships and jobs related to their interests. From the time I have been working with this program I have learned so much about the Mexican community. I feel committed to helping them become educated for a better Mexican-American future.
CUNY Becas, DACA and CUNY Service Corps has changed my life forever, through these opportunities I have been able to connect with students who go through the same struggles as immigrants, we are not alone and we hope that together we will empower many Mexicans lives.
Blog Post by Yohan Garcia (Hunter College, 2014 CUNY Becario)
I was born and raised in Puebla, Mexico. In my country, I was unable to finish high school because of my family’s economic hardships. I always longed for greater opportunities and I knew I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Determined to resume my education and make something good of myself, I immigrated twelve years ago to the United States, in pursuit of the American dream.
Once I arrived in the U.S, I secured my first job as a dishwasher at a diner. At first I became disillusioned and lost sight of my goal of becoming an educated person. I had to face many obstacles in my way. Thankfully, my family never lost faith in me –they reminded me that I had made this journey to accomplish my dream of becoming a successful professional, and that I had the potential to conquer my goals. Being undocumented has made it more challenging to achieve my goals. Like many undocumented immigrants, I was forced to live in the shadows because I lacked opportunities due to my immigration status. Although, many of us are required to deal with the fate we are handed, we should not let our current circumstances determine our future. We have the power to change them.
Thanks to the Becari@s Scholarship Program, I’m finishing my last year as an undergrad at Hunter College without worrying about the cost of tuition. I am grateful to the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute and donors for their generous financial, and professional support to all the Becari@s. With hard work and determination, I have been able to change my life. As a first generation college student, I appreciate my efforts being recognized. However, there are many other undocumented students, especially Mexican students who have not been able to move forward because they lack the opportunities due to their immigration status. I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to intern at LULAC Queens Council 23047. LULAC Queens Council 23047 recognizes that education is key to success; we continue to increase our educational opportunities for the educational attainment of Mexican students and their access to better jobs.
As the Mexican community grows its population share in New York City, LULAC Queens Council 23047 also highlights the importance of citizenship. Low propensity to naturalize dilutes the potential political influence of our community and hence deprives it of a major channel of demand-making and collective mobility. Further, citizenship is shown to result from a boost in the income of immigrants; therefore, it is essential that we put pressure to the state legislature to pass more immigrant friendly employment legislation. Also driver’s license legislation for both documented and undocumented immigrants would aid in the attainment of better jobs. These laws would bring significant economic gains in terms of growth, earnings, tax revenues and jobs.
I look forward to continuing my work as a community activist in order to protect and secure our civil rights in areas such as immigration, social services, education and economic opportunity. As immigrants we might not have everything we wished for, but we have courage and passion to follow our dreams and we never give up!
Blog Post by Vanessa Tlachi (City College, 2014 CUNY Becaria)
This past summer I went back to dirt roads and being woken up to the sound of roosters en el patio. After fifteen years of city lights, subway rides, english speaking tongues, I went back to the humble beginning. I went back to my one and only, San Antonio Cacalotepec. I have to admit it wasn’t easy going back but going back allowed me to heal, forgive, and love the fact that !yo soy Mexicana!
You see, the reason why I’m even here, in this country, is because my father was an alcoholic who abused my mother, brother, and me. Financially, we struggled; two unplanned births, alcoholism, and a corrupt country didn’t allow for an influx of money in our home. One day, my mother’s father told her of ‘The Land of Opportunity’ where the floor was made out of gold and everyone could make a new life. Without thinking twice she left her parents, her town, her culture; we crossed. My mother didn’t exactly have the time or tools to educate herself in American politics and therefore did not know the hardships her kids would face being undocumented. Alas, my brother and I, once old enough to understand, struggled with our undocumented status. Things weren’t easy and I often thought that I would never be able to make a life in this country but through some miracle that is its own story, my brother and I were granted permanent residency two summers ago.
With the help of our father, we saved up money and flew out to Mexico this past summer. But going back wasn’t easy. I associated Mexico with nothing but pain. I resented my grandparents for knowing about my dad and never coming out and defending us; I resented the laws for being corrupt and never protecting my mother when she ended up at the hospital; I resented the townspeople for seeing us in church and seeing us with bruises and never once asking where we got them from. So no, going back was not easy. But going back allowed me to forgive my people, forgive my family, and heal. How could I expect people to stand up against violence when the violence was happening in their own homes too? When they also felt the backlash of poverty and corruption? When staying silent was a way of surviving and a norm?
Having been accepted into the CUNY Becas scholarship program before my trip back to Mexico was extremely important because it allowed me to come to the conclusion that all that I have had to overcome was so I could learn how to fight for what is right and be prideful of the land where I was born. Not only does the Becas scholarship allow you to continue your studies but it opens you to connections and networks within your community. I’ve formed bonds with my Becari@ brothers and sisters that motivate me to become more in touch with my Mexican roots. The Becas scholarship program has also allowed me to focus my lens on what I’m passionate about and the change I want to make in law and legislation through the performing arts. Which is why I’m considering a second major in Latin American and Latino Studies. In order to make a change I have to go back to the beginning and know more about my people and the struggles that have molded us into the unique hardworking individuals that we are. I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote while in Mexico:
“Mother and son
Holding hands in the distance
Past stray dogs
into the endless
‘Ya me voy abuela’
shouts the gleeful 4-year-old
before heading to school.
like and obedient soldier
waits outside for the familiar
grab of the
hand, indicating readiness.
The love of this
Mother and Son
like no other.
He was Her sun
and Her moon
Her crushed dreams
gone too soon
Though only four
this son was her first
and her last
He was her Life.”
Blog Post by Areli Morales (Brooklyn College, 2014 CUNY Becaria)
¡Si Se Puede!
This August over half a million individuals celebrated two years of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA). The DACA program has provided work permits, driver licenses and protection from deportation to many people that call this country their home. Although this program does not provide a path to residency or citizenship in the United States, it has given me the courage and strength to continue forward. This program has opened a door of opportunity but I believe there are many others to be opened along the way.
I remember as I anxiously waited at the DMV to obtain my state ID. How easy it was to fill out that social security section with a nine-digit number that I had just received a few days before. I recalled when I use to panic and stress out every time an application required me to submit a social security number. I was afraid to admit that I in fact did not have one. At one point, the lack of owing a social security number almost caused me to give up my efforts to continue my studies. I had assumed that not having a social security number meant that I would not be able to gain a college degree or even obtain a job in my desired field.
However, my perspective changed once I received my approval for DACA (Deferred action for childhood arrivals). I simply rejoiced of happiness once I received that precious letter that stated that my case had been approved. With shakings hands I immediately called my mom and told her “¡lo hicimos, mamá!” It was that letter that had altered my life in a very bright and promising direction. With the fear and the burden lifted away from my shoulders, I quickly gained the confidence to continue to obtain high grades and apply to college. With the help of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies and many other gracious donors, I will attend my first semester at Brooklyn College this fall as a recipient of CUNY BECAS. This will allow me to spend more time focusing on my studies and less time worrying on how to pay my tuition. As part of the scholarship, I eagerly hope to intern at an organization that will allow me to help the hispanic youth achieve their career goals and hopefully encourage them to attend college as well. I look forward to spending this year, and hopefully many years to come, surrounded by my Becari@s family. So far they have provided me with support, motivation and inspiration to make a difference. I am glad to have met a great group of individuals during a new chapter of my life. I also look forward to enriching seminars, fundraising events and gatherings this year. I am truly grateful, excited and mostly proud to be a Becari@ of 2014-2015.
Blog Post by Arianna Flores (Brooklyn College, 2014 CUNY Becaria)
On June 24th of 2014, I graduated from Fort Hamilton High School, in Brooklyn, with honors and at the top seven percent of my class. My parents watched me with joy and excitement as I walked down the aisle to receive my diploma. Reality hit me on stage, I was finally graduating and the stress I went through during college admissions was worth it. I wanted to cry out of happiness as I stared at my parents who were in the audience supporting me; my father was holding flowers while my mother was taking pictures with enthusiasm. Throughout high school they were my main inspiration, and there was no doubt about it, they were very proud of me. Graduation was a decisive moment in my life. I was making history in my family and a difference in my community. A chapter of my life ended, but a new one has begun from the moment I walked out with my diploma in my hands.
This fall, I will be attending Brooklyn College as a first generation college student and as a young undocumented woman. As the first one in my family to go to college, I hope to pave the way for my eleven-year-old brother who looks up to me. Enrolling at Brooklyn College is my way of telling my parents that all of the sacrifices they made were not in vain. Nonetheless, applying to college was not easy. Being considered as an international student when applying to higher education institutions, somehow reminded me of the fact that undocumented students are still not considered as part of America, despite of growing up in the United States for most of their lives.
Even though, the path for undocumented folks is still rocky, there had been some improvements in resources and opportunities to lessen the hardships our status represents; the amount of scholarships available for young undocumented immigrants has increased. In my case, being awarded with scholarships like: PTK (Power Through Knowledge) and CUNY Becas, has allowed me to fund my first year of college. Both scholarships have been a great blessing for me, however, CUNY Becas has become more than just a scholarship. The purpose of the CUNY Becas is to provide undocumented people with a support system to grow and develop into future leaders. Through this scholarship, I have been able to find a group of people I can identify with, network, and use as a guide for my college career. In addition to this, we attend monthly seminars and do internships with nonprofit institutions that best fit our interests in order to meet our professional goals.
For college, my interests lie in the areas of Political Science and Latino studies, therefore, I have been granted the opportunity to intern at the YA-YA Network (Youth Activists-Youth Allies) beginning from the month of July until now. The YA-YA Network is a well rounded program that educates, and trains young people to become activists in the movement for social and economic justice. Being part of this program has been such an eye opening experience, where we unpack issues like stop-and-frisk, immigration, racism, gentrification, climate justice and military recruitment. YA-YA represents a safe space in which, I can freely share my ideas and thoughts with no fear of being judged. Moreover, the diversity of the interns I work with has taught me meaningful things regarding finding one’s inner voice and reclaiming our roots. Being surrounded by people who are culturally aware inspires me to further explore my Mexican heritage and culture.
I am grateful to be part of CUNY Becas, because it has granted me economic support and academic advisement, and it has opened the doors to new opportunities and experiences like my internship at the YA-YA Network. However, not all undocumented students have the chance to be part of programs like CUNY Becas due to funding limitations. According to the Immigration Policy Center, “Each year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, many at the top of their classes, but cannot go to college, join the military, work, or otherwise pursue their dreams.” Here, CUNY Becas has made me the exception, thanks to the aid I have received, I will be able to go to college and not be part of this statistic. Overall, the path to higher education is difficult, but undocumented students are capable to make it through. Anais Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” It is up to us to keep pushing and never, ever give up!
Blog Post by Nancy Lopez Ramirez (City College, 2014 CUNY Becaria)
Blinking lights that turn off when a destination has been reached represent different stops across New York City. For me, they represent communities I have gotten to know. I will not go in depth about the train stops I have gotten off to transfer to another train, but about the moment when I was uncertain about my future. The stop in the Bronx represents the meaning of graduating from high school and attending college as a transfer student. I doubted my abilities because I would enter with a declared major. I thought I was not giving myself time to explore my options but then I began thinking about my family, college counselor, teachers, and individuals who have believed in me before they knew I was an undocumented student. They are part of the electricity that makes each light turn symbolize a stop in my map.
The lights started flickering faster when I found out that I was awarded the CUNY Becas Scholarship...I received the email when my mom was cooking dinner and my dad was untying his shoes from a hard-working day. I cherish the happiness that I saw in their face and the congratulations that I received at my high school. I became part of a community, through this scholarship I became a Becari@. I was able to bond with professors, staff, current and past Becari@s that make up the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies during the three-day orientation that was held in Frost Valley, New York. As everyone took in the beauty that nature had to offer, our bond grew stronger as we participated in icebreaker activities and conversations held in groups to learn about who we were, who we wanted to be and, most of all, the positive impact we want to make as a community.
This was just the first stop to a train that was accelerating and it’s wheel turned with excitement. As a Becari@ I realize that I represent the Institute and will be working with the Becari@s to create events, fundraisers and advocate for our communities. The first event took place in La Casa Azul Bookstore, founded by Aurora Anaya-Cerda. We participated in the bookstore’s Summer Series Concert, where artist held a concert in the weekend and while we were in charge of selling food and drinks. I was happy to participate and became aware of the bonds that the CUNY Becas creates among its candidates. In the concert that I participated the musical group Radio Jarocho, gave a modern touch to the traditional Son Jarocho music created in Veracruz, Mexico. When I began to hear the rhythm that was made by the stroke of the guitar and the melody of their music I was reminded of the importance of my roots and in my mind the sound echoed miles away.
I am overjoyed to be part of a community that has goals to accomplish. Although, we have just gotten started I have meet some of the individuals that support the Becari@s and want to see us succeed. The CUNY Institute of Mexican studies has given me the opportunity to share my uncertainty and be answered with optimistic replies. Thus, the blinking lights in my map represent the stops that I have yet to explore.
Blog Post by Maria Xique (Baruch, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
Thanks to the CUNY-IME Scholarship program from the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies, I was able to attend my first semester of graduate school. I’m currently enrolled in a masters program in Public Administration at the School of Public Affairs in Baruch College. The CUNY-IME scholarship I received not only helped me pay for my first semester but also has brought me new friends and contacts. In addition, thanks to the CUNY-IME scholarship, I was able to do an internship at the Mexican Consulate where I learned more about the Mexican Community.
At the Mexican Consulate I had the opportunity to learn about the different services the Consulate offers to all the Mexican community. My job at the Consulate was to do research about the educational programs New York City offers to all New York residents. In addition, I also had to translate the information into Spanish. Using my research I was able to provide assistance to the people who went to the Consulate seeking information about college, GED, English classes as second language, Plazas Comunitarias, and Deferred Action.
The CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies thought CUNY-IME Becas provides an open door with many opportunities. For instance, it offered me the relief of not having to worry for a while about financing for a semester of graduate school. Aside from the economic relief of having a semester assured with the scholarship, the Institute has also provided me and my fellow becari@s with monthly seminars. At these seminars we met different people that advised and counseled us about college, the work field, and about the do’s and don’ts in succeeding in life. Two of the workshops that have helped me in many ways are the workshops given by Carlota Zimmerman J.D. and Richard Alvarez, the University Director for the City University of New York. Carlota Zimmerman gave us a workshop about the job search process and the right methods in using LinkedIn. Richard Alvarez gave us a workshop about the college application process. These two workshops helped me so much because thanks to them and the Institute of Mexican Studies I am better informed about the college application process and the job field. Furthermore, with this information I am now able to help students who are applying to college.
It fills me with so much enthusiasm that the CUNY-IME Scholarship program exists today! Because like me many other students can benefit from this open door opportunity that the Institute has created for the Mexican and Latin American Community.
Blog Post by Emilia Fiallo (Hunter College, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
The Importance of Mentors in the Life of a College Student
If you could write a letter to yourself after your High School graduation, what would you say to your younger self? Perhaps you would tell yourself to work harder, to exercise more and eat better food, to prioritize better, to take more challenging courses in college, to participate more, and to pace yourself along the way. We all remember that glorious day when we threw our caps in the air, picked up our diplomas and promised our friends we would keep in touch. The possibilities were endless and we felt unstoppable like the world was really in our hands. At least that’s how graduation was supposed to feel. Looking back at my high school graduation, I remember feeling alone and indifferent to the exciting path that lay before me because deep inside I knew my road to college would be like climbing up a steep hill, already tired and unmotivated. For an undocumented student like me, the road became difficult especially without a mentor for guidance and advice.
Undocumented high school students and their families face a tremendous financial burden when it’s time to pay for college since financial aid and TAP are not open to undocumented students. Although financing our college education is a struggle, the most challenging obstacle is a lack of mentorship and guidance when navigating life after high school. As an undocumented student I needed someone that I could count on when I needed special advice on my options when choosing a major, how to pick the right courses, how to balance work and school, and what scholarships were available. I stumbled my way through most of college and even though academic advisors are on campus they weren't always available or I would be assigned a different one each visit. The difference between an advisor and a mentor is that a mentor is willing to commit and dedicate his or her time to you and check in on you and follow your progress in college.
When I found out I had been awarded the CUNY IME Becas Scholarship Program I felt grateful to know that I had a whole community that was willing to donate their time and money in order to put me and other students through college. It meant that I was given a chance to go to school for an entire school year without sitting in class worried about my next tuition payment. It was a great feeling. The most exciting aspect of being a Becaria is the mentorship I have received so far. I remember a time when I was extremely stressed out about school and I was pushing myself to my limits. I took a trip to Lehman College and had a meeting with Professor Alyshia Galvez, and we spoke about the importance of enjoying college and how to prioritize taking care of our mental health. I left that meeting feeling energized and finished the semester strong with straight A’s. In the different seminars that have taken place throughout the year, we have met amazing community leaders, authors, entrepreneurs, professors, and students that not only inspired me to work hard but have offered their emails and personal phone numbers in case we ever need anything. In the last seminar we met Carlota Zimmerman who taught us how to build our professional profile and what we can do to achieve our career goals. We've also met people like Aurora Anaya-Cerda, who launched a campaign to raise funds and open La Casa Azul Bookstore, a literature/cultural hub in El Barrio. I've also met amazing students along the way and I find that we all have a lot in common; the drive to finish college and do it with our heads held high. The CUNY IME Becas scholarship has been a wonderful experience filled with amazing people that have taken care of me as a student beyond what I ever could have expected.
Blog Post by Juan Mejia (College of Staten Island, 2013 CUNY-IME Becario)
Coming from a family of nine brothers and sisters money has always been tight. When my siblings and I graduated from high school my parents told us they would support us in every way, but we would have to pay our own tuition if we wanted to attend college. It would be impossible for them to pay for all of us on their salaries. To save enough money I had to work multiple jobs and miss a couple of semesters. I used this time off to think about what career I wanted to pursue when I started college. Being awarded the CUNY IME Beca Scholarship and becoming a Becario was such a surprise, and perfect timing! During that time I was struggling to save enough money for the upcoming school year. This scholarship allowed me to focus more on my studies and schoolwork instead of worrying about how I was going to pay for my next semester.
Not only did the CUNY IME Becas allow me to continue my education, but it also opened many doors for me. Through the scholarship I was able to intern at the Queens Business Outreach Center, a non-profit organization that works with small businesses. This organization helps businesses run more efficiently and helps them to apply for loans. As a business major this was a great experience. I had the opportunity to see and learn about the many aspects of running a business, what start up businesses have to go through to try and run a successful business and the requirements needed for them to get a loan. I also had the chance to sit in on the many workshops the organization held on how to manage your own business.
CUNY IME BECAS has given me a place where I am surrounded with like-minded individuals, a network of people who want to be successful, who help others, and dream of a better future. If I had to pick the best part of being a Becario it would have to be the seminars. It is in these seminars that I get to interact, share ideas and learn more about my fellow Becari@s. The best part of the seminars is having the honor of meeting such admirable individuals who share valuable advice, inspiring me with their words and sharing their stories of success and how we can also become successful. I can truly say these individuals have influenced me to become a better student and a better person. I have always dreamed of doing something great, something no one has ever done, and to change things for the better. I am still not sure exactly what that is, but I feel that with the new people I have met to back me up I can hopefully achieve it one day.
Blog Post by Luba Cortes (Borough of Manhattan Community College, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
One cold October morning my mother woke me up and told me that we would be embarking in a journey. I remember seeing my grandmother crying, but at the mere age of five I did not understand what her tears meant. The journey my mother was talking about was coming to the United States. I learned the language quickly and excelled in all my classes, but my lack of status prevented me from enjoying opportunities given to students with excellent grades such as studying abroad. It was not until my junior year of high school when my peers were getting into universities like MIT, while I had to contemplate whether I could afford going to school, that I realized how unjust the laws in this country where.
Through very hard work my mother was able to round up the money to pay for one semester of college. Although I had good grades and loved my school we could not afford a second semester and I had to wait another year until I could go back.
Through my work as an organizer at this wonderful organization called Make The Road NY, I found a community of people who embraced me and encouraged me to not fear my status. Because of this newfound power in me, two months ago I engaged in civil disobedience. I did this because I believe that our government has failed us, it has failed the 1,100 undocumented immigrants that are being deported every day. It has also failed the families that are left behind trying to fill the voids that their loved ones left. But most importantly I did the action for my mother; who is the most important person in my life, my rock, my anchor, and the one person that will always love me unconditionally. She is the woman that held my hand as we crossed the border on a cold October night when I was five years old and reassured me that we would be okay. The one person who put her dreams aside so that one day I could realize my own. That night in December I honored her sacrifice, but I am not done repaying everything that she has done for me. I will not stop fighting until I see my mother is able to work without fear, travel without fear, and finally become a citizen of the country that she has called home for the last 14 years. I will not stop fighting until my community no longer feels afraid to embrace their undocumented status for fear of persecution and separation.
I thank the CUNY institute of Mexican Studies for their warm welcome and encouragement. For being the beacon of hope that I needed in order to go back to school and for providing me with a safe space to share my story.
Blog Post by Angy Rivera (John Jay College, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
Many assume that because I’m undocumented I don’t have a voice. I often hear some refer to people like me as “voiceless” or “invisible”. There is always a need to give me a voice, to humanize me, to speak out for me, and to advocate for me. What many fail to see is that I can do all that for myself; if only they stopped to listen. At some point in my life, I also thought I was voiceless.
When I was younger I wasn’t undocumented and unafraid, I was very afraid and ashamed. I thought this status was a curse, but I know see how it is also a blessing. I have a love/hate relationship with being undocumented. While it has kept me from many opportunities and has limited my existence here in the United States; I’ve also learned how to fight for my rights and education. I’ve met a lot of amazing people because of the path my immigration status has taken me on.
The CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies awarded me one of their scholarships this year and I’m so thankful for that. The scholarship allows me to not worry about financing my education for a little while. It means one year of not stressing over money so much. To focus more on school and my career. It means one year of being able to invest more into my community.
I decided to volunteer with the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), a non-profit organization led by undocumented youth working on creating equal access to education for all regardless of immigration status. I had already been volunteering there in a different area of the organization; so I switched over to organizing.
As a fellow for the organizing section of the organization I was able to work alongside other youth, many of whom are undocumented as well. Together, and with the help of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies, we organized the NYSYLC’s first ever Dream Team Convening. There are Dream Teams in various campuses and high schools, several Becari@s met at these clubs. The clubs have created a safe space for undocumented youth in school. A space for them to meet each other, share stories and resources, cry, make friends and become unafraid. The convening would put all these Dream Teams under the same roof in order to provide each other with the skills necessary to stay active. Many students find themselves dropping out of high school or college because of the lack of community, Dream Teams are there to change that.When the Dream Team Convening finally took place I couldn’t help but feel honored to be surrounded by such amazing individuals. Young people who are ready to change the culture of their campuses. Who are no longer afraid or ashamed to be undocumented. Who are stepping up and claiming the respect and dignity they’ve always deserved. Who are pushing for the New York Dream Act and/or creating their own scholarships while they wait for the state to provide support. They’re a force to be reckoned with.
We are standing up and being our own advocates. We are using our power and our voices to push for the changes we wish to see in our community, and in our state. We are creating spaces and opportunities that didn’t exist before.
I’m thankful to the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies for their constant support and for believing in the power of education for all. Their scholarship program and educational events show that by providing the necessary tools, students are able to succeed.
Blog Post b Sanchez
y Jasniya Sánchez (Baruch MPA, 2012 CUNY-IME Becaria)
Balancing work as a private Math Tutor, volunteering at Qualitas of Life Foundation as Academic Coordinator, attending graduate school part-time, working along side fellow youth and students at MAYAS (Mexican American Youth Advising Students) promoting education, family and friends is not a walk in the park, but all of these experiences haveleft me with valuable lessons learned and have made me a better person.
Through all the ups and downs brought about by juggling all these responsibilities I would like to highlight the following experiences:
1. Winning the IME Beca & Inauguration of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies at Lehman College
2. Being the Academic Coordinator at Qualitas
Winning the IME Beca & Inauguration of the Institute of Mexican Studies at Lehman College As a Mexican citizen living abroad, I was extremely happy and proud to hear about the creation of the IME Beca for Mexican citizens in need of financial aid to continue/start their college education. and immediately visualized a brighter future for the Mexican community of this great city! For me IME Becas symbolizes hope, opportunity and believe in the talents and dreams of young Mexicans like myself. When I received the amazing news that I had been one of the selected winners of the first IME Becas to be awarded ever by CUNY and the IME, I was overcome with great joy and also an enormous sense of responsibility came over me.
When I learned about this great initiative I assumed the responsibility not only to make good use of the award granted, but also to make my country and community proud. It is every IME Becario's responsibility to make our community proud, inspire future generations to reach for the stars and lend a helping hand to those that are following our footsteps. I am proud to be Mexican and call myself an IME Becaria!
2012 was surely a very promising year for CUNY and the Mexican community in New York City, which not only saw the IME Becas come to life, but also celebrated the inauguration of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies at Lehman College. As a CUNY student and Mexican, I could not have been more excited and proud! I see the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies as the home away from home for all of those Mexicans living in the great city of New York and the place to highlight and share the beauty and richness of our culture to future generations and the world! For all of this and the great team at the Institute, I am very proud and humble to have been elected to be part of the executive board and will do my best to help the Institute fulfill its mission.
Being the Academic Coordinator at Qualitas Volunteering at Qualitas has been such a rewarding experience since I started being involved with this amazing organization since 2009. In 2012, as the Volunteer Academic Coordinator at Qualitas of Life Foundation I had the great opportunity and challenge to coordinate their financial education programs. This task consisted on training and managing facilitators, maintaining relationships with strategic alliances, scheduling workshops, conducting workshops, revising and creating educational material and my personal favorite interacting with our workshops participants. Being part of a small organization, I was exposed to all different aspects that make up a nonprofit organization. As a Master in Public Administration student I could not have asked for anything better than being part of an organization like Qualitas, where I have learned so much in a short period of time. Today, I am proud to say that the shy girl, who could not speak in front of a small group of people, now is able and very much comfortable speaking in front of large audiences whether they are workshop participants, board members during Qualitas' board meetings, Qualitas' annual reports or delivering a speech at CUNY's college fair for the Mexican community. This is just one of many examples where Qualitas has given me the opportunity and challenge to take charge, believe in myself and shine! All of the staff that has come through Qualitas since my arrival in 2009, board and committee members, alliances, volunteers and facilitators have always been supportive and a pleasure to work with, thank you! I look forward to continue my work at Qualitas in 2013 now as part of the staff!
Oh 2012, by far you have been one of the most challenging, yet the most rewarding year yet to come for me. As a Master in Public Administration student (Baruch College), young professional, Mexican citizen, New Yorker, Latina and immigrant, if I had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again, I would not change anything about you. 2012, you were perfect with all your imperfections, thank you! Now I can't wait what 2013 has in store for me.
Read more about Jasniya here.
Victor Pajarito (Lehman BA Linguistics, 2012 CUNY-IME Becario)
*Our first blog post for the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies Blog*
Discovering my Nahuatl Roots
“Nitze! nehua notoca Victor, tehua keni ti mo toca? kentika? Kuali?”
(Hi, my name is Victor, what is your name? how are you? Good?)
It was a Wednesday afternoon and I had just gotten out of my French class at Lehman College. As luck would have it, I still had one more class to go. But this next class wasn't just any other class; it was my first Nahuatl class, talk about being out of the ordinary. My Nahuatl class was back in Brooklyn, where I live, at Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, an organization that offers Mexicanidad, courses in various cultural subjects like music, dance and language. Everyday I dread that near two hour commute from Brooklyn to Lehman and then vice versa, but luckily for me I had my iPod with me. As I turned it on to listen to the few Nahuatl songs that I had, I began to melt down to the melodic voice of Lila Downs. I couldn't help but to realize that I was minutes away from immersing myself in a completely different and new language, the language of my ancestors – the Aztecs.
Being that I’m a Linguistics major, I have been exposed to and have studied various different languages myself, but Nahuatl was unlike anything I have ever witnessed or studied before. How I found myself dabbling into Nahuatl was not by chance, but I feel, for the most part, it was because of fate. I was recently fortunate enough to be given a scholarship by the Mexican government, and as an “IME Becario” (Institute for Mexicans Abroad scholarship winner) I was also placed in an internship to become more active in the Mexican community. The internship that I chose was to work with the CUNY institute of Mexican studies, to organize their indigenous languages campaign. I thought this internship would suit me best, because it combined my love of languages and linguistics along with my love to help people and my community. My task is to help organize several events and workshops that will help raise awareness about Mexico’s rich linguistic diversity.
A lot of the time people think that just because one is Mexican, or comes from Mexico, Spanish is the only language that they speak. In fact Mexico is home to various indigenous languages like Nahuatl, Zapotec, and Mixteco, to name a few. Many times Mexicans who only speak an indigenous language get the short end of the stick and are stuck with providers who only speak Spanish and have no knowledge that they may speak an indigenous language. For this reason they often get stuck with Spanish interpreters at courts and hospitals. I want to be able to help these people, and I believe that the first way I can help them is by raising awareness about Mexico’s indigenous languages. This is the reason why I felt the need to learn an indigenous language, to put myself in their shoes and mentality so I can understand the indigenous population better, at least on the linguistic level.
The train had arrived at my stop and soon after I was a block away from the building. As I walked up the stairs to the room where the class would be held at, I jumped for joy on the inside. The teacher came in and to my surprise didn't have a professor or teacher type of feel when he taught, it seemed more like he was engaging us in a conversation, while learning through that dialogue. Immediately the first thing we learned were the personal pronouns “Nehua (I), tehua (you singular), yehua (he,she,it), Tehuan (we), Mamehuan (you plural), and Yehuan (they).” We learned that there are different ways for saying things in different parts of Mexico where they speak Nahuatl and that they are not necessarily wrong, just different, because people speak differently.
We also learned our first Nahuatl words, which were the words for flower “xochitl,” book “amoxtli,” sand “xali,” mother “nantze,” and father “tastze.” I saw some of the other students struggling to make sense of the different sounds and structure of the Nahuatl language, but I think that the reason for that had a lot to do with the fact that many of them tried to bring Spanish elements into Nahuatl and were reluctant to the fact that they are two complete different languages. Soon after, the first lesson came to an end, and by the end of it I found myself able to introduce myself in Nahuatl and greet someone. As I was leaving the class, a news reporter from Televisa, a Mexican news network, asked if she could get a few words from us, as to why we were taking the class and what did we think of our first class. Two weeks later I got home late and saw that my family was Skyping with my family members in Mexico. Through Skype my aunt told me that my cousin told her and the rest of the family that his high school teacher mentioned me in his class. She said that she saw on the news a young man who was from Mexico, now living in New York, who is learning Nahuatl, and how remarkable it was that someone so far away was learning a language that not many people there bother to learn. She remembered my name and my cousin immediately shouted that he was related to me. My aunt said that I have made my family in Mexico very proud. But I think I have made my Aztec ancestors even more proud.