Jessica G.: Being undocumented built a strength in me

“I am a believer that if you have a goal, there’s always a means to achieve it,” said Jessica G., an undocumented student at UC Berkeley who chose not to share her last name.

Raised by her loving grandmother in Bolivia, Jessica arrived in Los Angeles with her grandmother on a tourist visa when she was 13, to visit her father. During their stay, doctors diagnosed her grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease. Jessica overstayed her visa and tended to her ill grandmother before and after school, in the months before she died.

“She was my pedestal,” said Jessica, her eyes quickly filling with tears. “She was whatever ‘mother’ and ‘father’ meant.”

Jessica says she always worked hard in middle and high school, jumping to regular English classes less than a year after her arrival in the United States and excelling in honors math. Affording school in the California State University system would have been easier, but she had her eyes on UC Berkeley.

“I want to be successful and make my name known — not for myself, but as a way of proving to the world that stereotypes are nothing but sociopolitical stamps placed on people,” said Jessica, who plans to be a lawyer.

She had to defer admission to UC Berkeley and save up tips from waitressing to pay for tuition and living expenses. Earlier in 2012, she was able to benefit from assistance that the campus made available when it became legal to do so under state law. This support — the Dream Act scholarship fund — has allowed her to cover her tuition expenses, freeing her tip money to pay for everything else, including food, books and living expenses. With the new Haas scholarship, she may be able to spread her remaining courses over four semesters instead of packing them into three, as she is currently straining to do.

“I consider myself privileged as an undocumented student because it built a strength in me, and tolerance,” said Jessica. “It didn’t discourage my talent or ambition to achieve goals — it fueled them.”

“My story is one from the many that remain invisible,” said Jessica, referring to those among the undocumented population who are less fortunate than her.