During the 1980s, my parents migrated from Mexico to California in search of better opportunities. In California, I grew up in the fields of Oxnard and the streets of Inglewood, where I witnessed members of my community discriminated against, deported, jailed, and murdered. My formative experiences in Oxnard and Inglewood motivated me to pursue a higher education in order to one day return to my community to fight for social justice. Moving between schools, however, made it difficult to remain motivated. My dream to pursue a higher education did not become a reality until I arrived at Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School (AICHS).
I Will Rise
At AICHS, I found teachers who nurtured my growth and development. Every morning, my ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Helenius, would ask my class to recite “The Scholar’s Creed,” which reminded us that “society had drawn a circle to shut us out, but that our superior thoughts must always draw us in. We must use each day to the fullest, for we are strong and we are brilliant…we will [rise], we will [rise], we will [rise].” Because of Mr. Helenius, over the following three years, I strove to use each day to the fullest.
During my junior year, I was invited to join College Match, a program that helps high school seniors gain admission and scholarships to selective four-year colleges. College Match showed me the possibility of attending universities outside of California, and I was given the chance to travel to the east coast to visit universities like Dartmouth College. As the eldest child, my parents were initially hesitant about me potentially moving away from home. But I was determined to change the trajectory of my family and my community.
The day I received my acceptance letter to Dartmouth College, I was ecstatic. I would be the first in my family to pursue a higher education. Once I was at Dartmouth, however, I realized how unprepared Dartmouth was to serve and accommodate my needs, based on my background. Initially, I felt like I had to assimilate into the campus culture in order to exist comfortably in this new world. But over time, I found professors and deans who I could talk to about the challenges that I encountered as a Chicana at an Ivy League institution.
"Initially, I felt like I had to assimilate into the campus culture in order to exist comfortably in this new world."
-- Yaritza Gonzalez, Green Dot alumna
At the start of my sophomore year, I began to seek opportunities that helped me assert my identity at Dartmouth College. For example, I joined organizations like La Alianza Latina, the Inter-Community Council, the First Year Student Enrichment Program, and the Coalition for Immigration Reform, Equality, and DREAMers. I interned for the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, and the Spanish Speaking Citizens' Foundation. I also participated in the Summer Research Fellows Program in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley and the Law Fellows Program at UCLA. My sense of identity became clearer and stronger with each new experience. Through these experiences I learned the power of reaching out and speaking out.
Creating Pathways for Others
As a Dartmouth College alumna, I use my privilege to create pathways for more members of my community to pursue and thrive in college. I currently serve on the board of the Los Angeles Alumni Club and the Latinx Alumni Association. I try to be a mentor to others who come from a similar background as me because I want to help ease the fears and doubts that arise in college, especially when coming from a family that has little to no knowledge of the college process. Ultimately, I realized that as a Chicana, my psyche resembles the bordertown: ni de aquí, ni de allá (neither from here, nor there), and over the course of my time at Dartmouth, I learned to value the privilege of being able to move between two worlds. I’m currently a paralegal in the Survivors of Violence Department at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in Los Angeles.
My work centers around immigrants who are survivors of domestic violence, as well as other crimes. Having been at CARECEN for three years now, I am certain that this is where I want to make an impact.
My goal is to become an immigration attorney, and later a critical race studies law professor to shed light on the stories of those in my community. I also hope to establish an organization similar to CARECEN in my hometown of Inglewood. I have realized that although there is good work being done in the immigrants rights movement in Downtown Los Angeles--my community in South Los Angeles is often neglected with little to no access to resources. I want to give back to the community that fundamentally shaped me into the person I am today, to serve as a role model to young women of color.
I am inspired by the words of Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa, "I write because I am scared of writing, but I am more scared of not writing." I want to continue to add to the conversation about the immigrant experience in the U.S. by traveling, listening, researching, writing, organizing, advocating, teaching, and serving. My hope is that we may continue to rise.