Written by Karla Arevalo.
“Some years ago, someone told me I was never going to college because I was undocumented. Today I am an American Citizen, an American Soldier, and a soon to be college Graduate.”
Today I am able to say these words with pride and assertiveness. However, the path that leads to this place was full sunny days, rainy days, rocky roads, and numerous obstacles.
I should begin by saying that my name is Karla Maria Arevalo-Alas and my journey initiates in El Salvador, where I was born and lived until the age of eleven-years-old. Both of my parents attended college and with great sacrifice each of them earned an undergraduate degree. With this being said, education was inculcated as a top priority for my sister and me.
Given my parent’s education and careers, we were able to live a comfortable life in El Salvador without many economic difficulties. However, on February 2003 my parents received a call in which one of my father’s employees warned him that a group of people were plotting to kidnap one of his children (later on I found out I was going to be the victim).
Two days later, the person that warned my family was found dead. It was at that moment that my mother decided to leave behind everything she had, including her family, career, house, and even husband, in order to keep my sister and me safe. On February 26, 2003, my mom, sister, and I arrived to the United States and began a new life.
I was eleven-years-old and was placed in 4th grade. Attending school was terrifying and quite traumatic. I had always been an honors student in El Salvador and was used to being at the top of my class. However, due to the new language, culture, and over-all life style, my academic performance was much damaged, and with it my confidence. The days were filled with classes I didn’t understand, conversations I couldn’t participate in, and an extreme feeling of loneliness. Going home was not too comforting either because we always had to arrive to an empty house. After working as a nurse in El Salvador, my mom had to settle with a job in a warehouse due to our undocumented status. She worked night shifts, therefore she was asleep when we left for school and was gone to work by the time we arrived back.
The little time my mom was around, she used it to help me with my homework. Since neither of us knew English, we sat in the kitchen table for hours, looking up words in the dictionary trying to understand the instructions for the homework. By the time I was in middle school and I was acquainted with English, I was once again an honor roll student and received many recognitions and certificates for most of my classes. One day, a classmate came up to me and congratulated me for all the awards I had received, and followed the state by saying, “Too bad you will never go to college because you are illegal.” I was crushed. I went home crying and told my mom that no matter how good I was in school, it didn’t matter because I was never going to be able to go to college and have a career. My mom looked at me and told me that no matter how impossible that seemed at the moment, she knew I will find a way to do anything I set my mind to.
After that day, I decided to never give up and never stop doing my best in school, because maybe, just maybe my hard work was going to pay off. Throughout high school I kept a 4.0 GPA, even though sometimes I didn’t think my efforts were going to be worth it since I was still undocumented. On November of my senior year in high school, my mom, my sister, and I received Permanent Resident status in the U.S. through a family member. The timing was perfect since I was able to apply to the universities of my choice and to numerous scholarships. After being accepted in several universities, I opted to attend Georgia State University where I received a full-ride scholarship. Since then, I’ve been able to study abroad in Hong Kong, South Korea, Sweden and Spain all paid with scholarships and I currently hold a 3.9 GPA.
I decided to join the Army National Guard on my junior year in college and recently received my U.S. Citizenship. I expect to graduate college in summer with an Exercise Science Bachelor of Science degree. I plan to attend graduate school in the near future to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.
I attribute a great part of my success to my mother and sister, because without their unconditional support I would have given up on my dreams a long time ago. Now I am confident that with a lot of work and faith, I will reach any and every goal I set my mind to.
Karla Arevalo is a member of the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society at GSU. She is also a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Scholar (2012) and an awardee of the United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative.
Karla has volunteered with the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org