By Charlotte Dulany
Speaker, author, immigration rights advocate and former Wall Street executive Julissa Arce spoke about achieving the American dream as an immigrant at the Voices of Social Change in Hoff Theater Tuesday night.
Arce said she achieved the alleged “American Dream” — success, wealth and status — after beginning her career in the United States as an undocumented immigrant who bought a fake green card and social security number for a few hundred dollars when she was 19.
Arce grew up in Taxco, about a hundred miles southwest of Mexico City. Before coming to the United States, all Arce knew about America was what she had seen on shows such as Dennis the Menace and Beverly Hills, 90210 — in which, she mentions, “Everyone looked the same: beautiful, rich and white.”
“When my parents told me America was going to be my new home, I didn’t know if someone like me would fit into the context of America,” she said, “or if someone like me could be called American.”
She wrote in her memoir, My (Underground) American Dream, that she had learned to live an “alternate reality” in which her immigration status didn’t matter.
Arce is the chairwoman of the Ascend Educational Fund, a college scholarship and mentorship program for immigrant students in New York City.
Arce teared up when she described seeing three AEF students graduate college last year as one her proudest moments. Without these scholarships from her nonprofit, these students would not have been able to graduate, she said.
“It is a really amazing thing when the work that you do can have such a positive impact on someone else’s life,” she added.
Isabel Jorrin García, a senior criminal justice major, also shared her immigration experience from the audience.
“In school I was bullied for my accent,” she said. “The word ‘dumb’ appeared to become synonymous with ‘hispanic.’”
Today, Garcia said she couldn’t be more proud to be bicultural, and that she appreciates the way her culture and values intertwine with American culture.
There are approximately 150 undocumented students at the University of Maryland, mostly undergraduate, according to Laura Garcia, this university’s undocumented student coordinator.
Emily Starobin — a senior environmental science and policy and Spanish major, as well as a representative of the Health Center — asked Arce how the Health Center can better provide emotional support to undocumented peers on campus.
Reg Ledesma, a senior economics major minoring in Asian American studies, and a moderator of the event, answered this question.
“I think a really easy thing you can do is when you hear someone say ‘illegal immigrants,’ you should stop them and say ‘actually, it’s [called] undocumented.’”
After University President Wallace Loh decided not to designate the University of Maryland a sanctuary campus because it was “unnecessary” last year, the Office of Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy and the Asian American Studies Program partnered with other departments and allies to increase institutional support for undocumented students.
MICA is committed to the creation and maintenance of a campus environment where undocumented students are affirmed and supported as a part of the campus community.