(This story was originally written by Luis Otero-Bravo, a student at George Washingon University School of Business). Luis is currently spending his summer in Georgia, interning with GALEO and as program fellow for LCF Georgia. Image above is from Luis and his family at the Posse Atlanta Awards Ceremony on December 16. 2017)
Challenges and adversities in my life have always been present, just as I imagine you all have them present in yours. And as I proceed with my story, I intend for it to serve as a testament to the notion that whatever adversity you are confronted by does not dictate the outcome of your destiny.
I am the oldest son of four, born to two Mexican immigrants who have instilled in me a passion for hard work and a devotion to education. Growing up, I would always pay close attention to the details in my parents’ stories about their short-lived infancy back in their native pueblos. These stories include accounts of walking long distances on gravel roads during the cold winter months, with nothing but a thin cotton shirt to keep them warm, all to reach an old tattered down school building that had no heat and where no hot lunch was provided. Even in these conditions, my parents would continue to pursue a dream to continue school because at their young age, they understood that education was important.
At eight years old, my young parents began working in the fields feeding alfalfa to cows, picking strawberries, or taking on any job that would pay them enough to help support their families. This, however, came at a price, for they were not able to continue past the fifth grade as they had to forfeit their education to survive. When I was born, and my malnourishment, as a result of poverty, almost led to my death as a baby, they realized that in these conditions they would not be able to provide a future for their own children. So they chose to pursue yet another dream, one that would entail great sacrifice and the endurance of societal marginalization, the American Dream.
Since my earliest days in school, I have been hungry to learn. I was hungry to learn how to read, write, and speak English. I grew up in a household where English was not my first language. Neither my mom nor my dad were able to comprehend it. This meant that as soon as I began to understand English, I was to take on a responsibility that most 1st and 2nd graders did not have to. At doctor’s meetings, at parent-teacher conferences, and at any other place that involved my parents’ engagement in direct conversation, I had to trust in my six-year-old self that I would be translating every word and every sentence correctly. I was the oldest of my siblings, so this meant that I had no one to rely on help for this. I had to grow up faster than most of the kids my age because I knew had a responsibility to the well-being of my family.
As years went by, I would continue to pursue my quest for knowledge. I loved school, and I loved the idea of challenging myself academically. However, I also obtained a non-traditional education outside of the classroom that allowed me to learn more about the real world. I started to work at a carwash down the street from my apartment complex on Saturdays during the school year with one of dad’s close friends when I was in the 6th grade. During the following two years, I would spend each Saturday and winter and summer breaks cleaning and detailing cars. After finishing my first semester of my 8th grade year, I started working at a Mexican restaurant cleaning tables and attending to customers’ needs. Seeing my dad work two jobs at times with only sleeping for 3 or 4 hours, motivated me to work harder both in school and in my job.
It was towards the end of my 8th grade year. I was in conversation with my dad explaining to him my excitement of starting high school in the coming months. My excitement to finally start on my path to college was halted as he said, “Mijo, pero tu no vas a poder ir a una universidad” “Son, but you will not be able to attend a university.” I responded, “Y por que no, papà?” “Why not, dad?” “Porque no tienes papeles. Eres indocumentado.” “Because you do not have papers. You are undocumented.” Though I did not fully comprehend the extent to which being an undocumented student would impact my aspirations, I felt my dreams of pursuing a higher education start to slowly shatter, just like both my parents’ dream did years ago.
Determined to not let my status dictate my destiny, I continued to move forward. As I entered my freshman year in high school, I continued to work near 40-hour weeks to help my family. My meticulous school work ethic quickly enabled me to ascend to the top ranks of my class. If I wanted to have a shot at pursuing my dream of obtaining a higher education, I could make no mistakes. When DACA was enacted in 2012, my hopes and dreams for the future increased, but so did my responsibilities. I became the family’s chauffer after receiving a much coveted license, which became another job in and of itself.
When I finally became a senior in high school, I was nominated by the founders, David and Angela, of a non-profit dedicated to the empowerment of the Latino/Hispanic youth called The Hispanic Organization Promoting Education “HoPe” to a scholarship based on leadership and academic merit called the Posse Foundation scholarship. After having been denied by other programs, I made sure to give it my all during each round of a three-interview process. Finally, on December 7th of 2015, I was notified via a phone call from our very own provost, Forrest Maltzman, that I would be part of the inaugural cohort of Posse scholars to attend the George Washington University. I started to cry, for I would now be able to live out my parents’ dream as a way to repay them for each and every sacrifice that they have had to make for myself and my siblings.
Almost three years since Forrest’s call, I am now a rising Junior at GW. One thing that I would like to highlight now is the bittersweet taste of opportunity presented to many, like myself, who are first generation and Undocumented/DACAmented students studying away from home. While GW and Posse have presented me with a plethora of incredible opportunities, that sweet taste of excellence continues to leave a bitter aftertaste when, for example, you learn that your dad was pulled over driving without a license. The feeling of impotence is overbearing, and one cannot help but to feel guilty for not being there.
Through the help of close mentors, I have learned that the biggest act of resilience that I can do to help my family is to continue to be at GW and obtain my education. This is the same message that I continue to transmit to my three siblings: Freddy, a rising senior in high school, Yamilex, a rising sixth-grader, and Kailey a rising fourth-grader. My hope is to inspire each of them to pursue a post-secondary education and become agents of positive change in whatever discipline they choose.
Much of my life-planning is around them, both my siblings and my parents. As the oldest I feel it is my responsibility to make sure every life/career-altering decision is one that will benefit all of us. This summer, I am back in GA, where I am working with GALEO as a Policy and Leadership Intern as well as a Program Fellow with the Latino Community Fund.
As I pursue my professional interests, currently at the intersection of Business and Law, I want to make clear that we as immigrants are more than just numbers or a simple statistic. These numbers are a reflection of the plethora of stories that, just like my own, represent a determination to make a better life for themselves and their posterity, and along the way, contribute in making America even greater than what it already is. Therefore, I ask you to become a beacon of hope for all those who are now living in the darkness of fear, in the abyss of uncertainty, and the oppression of societal marginalization.