Spare Parts is a movie by George Lopez I watched this weekend. Watching it was surreal because that was kinda of me more than 20 years ago. A 12 year old girl who recently arrived to America, who carried her English-Spanish dictionary everywhere since she could barely speak English, who was undocumented, and who knew education was the only chance she had to achieve the American dream---and I did.
Now I can look back and see how blessed I was and just like the movie it is important to share my story. My parents brought my sibblings and I to Maryland because we had family here; they had no idea at the time they had chosen to bring their kids to one of the best public school systems in the country. I did not realize that either until I was able to get into the Honors and Advanced Placement classes. How does an ESL student get there? According to my middle school counselor who let me take that first regular math class, by being very anoying. She was sick of me begging her everyday to give me a chance to take another math class because I was bored. My convincing argument was that one does not need English to do math; besides I had my Eng/Span dictionary with me at all times. She thought I would ask her to switch me to my old ESL class after the first exam; instead I got an A+ and was tutoring my English-speaking peers while I was still learning English in my other ESL classes. Since I had good grades to back me up I did not have to campaign long to convince her that after 6-months of ESL courses I knew enough English---at that point, ESL was designed to provide English proficiency in a couple of years. That is how I got my foot in the door.
In high school, I convinced my counselor to allow me to skip regular level courses and to assign me to honors classes. I did not realize then how crazy my request was; the only thing I knew was that I wanted to take the same classes my friends from math class were taking. Yes, I was the only kid with an accent in those classes and for sure the only one that always had an Eng/Span dictionary by her side. That is how I eventually got to Mr. Torsch's honor science class. He was an amazing teacher; he was my cheerleader for many years--also he never made fun of my accent. In my case, the science competition was called The Final Frontiers and I was building 8 feet tall towers out of popsicle sticks and 30 grams toothpick bridges that would support bricks. We were undefeated champions for many years.
Those science competitions opened many doors for me. During high school I was always busy attending summer programs at various universities across the US at no cost since I always got the full scholarship and my parents were not able to afford it. Now that I think about it, I did not really consider how risky it was to travel by plane or be included in newspaper articles since I was undocumented. In my head I figured that the chance that la migra stopped at a science program to pick up one kid was very remote.
I don't think I was the smartest kid in high school but I was very driven. I graduated at the top of my class-7th to be exact-with a 4.5 GPA, with 15 college credits, with acceptance letters even to Ivy League universities and a full state scholarship. It was amazing, these were the fruit of labor of many people that supported me in the journey like my family and teachers.
I got what I worked so hard for, the only problem was that in 1996 the Dream Act was only a dream. Reality had finally caught up with me and I was still an undocumented kid who could not accept the scholarships she needed to pay for college. It was a tragic situation. On top of it all, la migra caught my mom while working in a bakery--she, maybe all of us, were going to be deported. My world crumbled to pieces. Then enter divine intervention into this crazy equation and la migra ended up bringing our pink cards instead. On the last day before the deadline, I turned in my acceptance letter to University of Maryland with a full scholarship. I graduated after 5 years with 200 credits and with 3 degrees. I was going to say that it is not my intention to brag; but it is, this little kid who carried her dictionary for so many years was able to reach her American dream. She graduated, became a citizen, works for the government and still has an accent.
Keep dreaming and working hard,