When I lived in Mexico I always wanted to go to school and my parents did not support that. Well, actually it was my dad, because he was the one that was making the decisions, and then my mom would say, “Yes, of course, as you say.” He said that I could not continue going to school after I finished 6th grade. My biggest goal when I was in Mexico was to continue my schooling, but when I came to the United States my only goal was to go back to Mexico. My plan was to return to Mexico the first opportunity I received. Of course, as time went by, I realized that this country was giving me the opportunities that I always wanted; the ones that Mexico did not offer me. I knew that it would be a waste of time and a waste of everything my parents and I had done so far if I didn’t take advantage of them.

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Violeta at her high school graduation (2001).

That realization changed my way of thinking. I reminded myself that I had always wanted to go to school in Mexico and I never had the opportunity, so now I have the opportunity and I’m taking it! I started paying close attention in school and getting good grades. I decided I would go to college even though I had no support from my family. They always said “you’re a woman, you will never do it.” I remember my dad saying “you are stupid, college is for smart people and you are not.” He would always say things like that, so I figured that pursuing higher education was not only going fulfill my dream of going to school, but it was going be the door to my freedom. I knew that I didn’t want to have the same lifestyle my mom did. I knew that I didn’t want to get married at a very young age. I knew that I would never stand someone like my father to be my husband.  College would allow me to move out of my house since I didn’t want to be living with my family, because I felt so oppressed by my father. He was always telling me “you cannot do this, you cannot do that, you have to do things this way,” so I figured that if I did well in school, and went to college I would be able to achieve my dream of getting an education and at the same time I was going to be free.

“You’re a woman, you will never do it.”

I got a lot of support from some of my high school teachers. My ESL teacher and my agriculture teacher helped me so much. My agriculture teacher did great things—he helped me with my English and told me that I could do a lot of things that I never thought possible. He helped me feel comfortable with public speaking. Those two teachers spoke with me about college and helped me figure out which schools to visit and apply to. With their help, I finally decided to go to Iowa State. I mean everybody helped; my ESL teacher, my agriculture teacher, the lady who used to clean the schools. I worked with her for a while cleaning the schools when classes let out. She was very supportive and she helped me through everything, just by listening. She would explain things to me that I didn’t understand and was always telling me that I could do anything. She reminded me that people were there to help me and that I was going to be able to do it. I was very fortunate to have people like them.

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National Conference on Race and Ethnicity.

The five years I spent at Iowa State were the best five years of my life, so far. I was able to find myself, and learn to appreciate who I am. Because of all the bullying I experienced in high school, I was embarrassed by the color of my skin. I hated the fact that I had an accent when I spoke English and I did not want to speak Spanish. I just wanted to forget Spanish and actually assimilate into this culture so that I would be accepted and have a better life. Things were different at Iowa State. The people I met there taught me that I should appreciate myself for who I am. They showed me that the fact that I spoke Spanish was an asset instead of a liability, which was how I saw it. They made me realize that I should be proud of who I was. I decided to consider their words and was able to see that they were right. I shouldn’t be embarrassed of the accent that I have when I speak English because it reminds me of where I come from. The same goes for my native language. The fact that I learned English is a reminder that I will get ahead someday. So that’s when my way of thinking changed.

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Instead of being embarrassed because of the color of my skin and the fact that I spoke Spanish, I became embarrassed that my writing in Spanish was not so good. My writing in English was so much better than my writing in Spanish so I decided to take some steps to correct that. I took an opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica to better my writing in Spanish. My time at Iowa State was just great. If I could go back I definitely would. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I get to go to Drake and I have the opportunity to get my masters here, but I love Iowa State. Being a student at Drake is different. It’s easier, not because Drake is easier, but because I do not have the language barrier anymore. When I was at Iowa State, I had only been in this country for 5 years so my English wasn’t great and I struggled through my classes. I didn’t get the grades that I wanted to get. I always felt that I was not smart enough and that’s why I was not getting good grades, I never thought it was the language barrier that was limiting me. Now, being here at Drake and doing the work the way I’m supposed to, and getting the grades that I’m getting, proves to me that it was the language and it wasn’t me, which is very fulfilling.

I plan to continue my education by attending law school to study immigration and civil law.

Experiences in the Work Place