Article Written by: Tiffany Anderson
Photography by Ruben Gomez
A Greenville native, Emily Martinez-Villalobos has bright plans for her future and life both during and after college. As the eldest daughter to immigrant parents from Mexico, Emily sees the value of taking care of the ones you love most.
“My dad moved to America in the early 1980s and was part of the Amnesty program through Reagan. My mom came in 1999,” she said. Her parents wanted to provide a better life and opportunity for their children, Emily and her two younger brothers, to grow into successful adults. While Emily has seen some of her peers dismiss their opportunities, she mentioned several times how grateful she is for her mom and dad and how she wants to take care of them, too.
“In Mexican culture, you want to give your family everything you can. So if you have the chance to provide more opportunities for those family members, you take that opportunity. For me, family is the major motivation in what I do.”
Emily is intentional in her future pursuits and desires to make an impact with what matters most: people. “I’ve learned so much about DACA and its recipients. Advocacy is huge to me, but I’m also wanting to go to law school so I can become an immigration attorney. And honestly, I want to do pro bono work because I believe in order for someone to fully understand you, they need to empathize with your struggles. I want to help people who look like me.”
Within a few minutes of getting to know Emily, you’ll quickly realize she’s adamant about being an inclusive and empowering individual who wants to make a difference starting with the people in her community. “Working one on one with people is where I thrive,” she smiled, “I want to help the person right in front of me.”
Emily was part of the Hispanic Alliance’s Student Dreamer Alliance (SDA) which serves to empower youth by opening doors of opportunity. This 6-month seminar focuses on creating a space for self-discovery and the resources to equip students to reach their full potential. In Emily’s words, “They focus on growing the next generation of Hispanic leaders in South Carolina.”
One of the class projects focused on a tutoring program where Emily had the chance to teach English to immigrant students. Interacting with them furthered her love to make a difference in the lives of those around her. “If it weren't for SDA, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now,” she mentioned. “Through my relationships there, they allowed for my dreams to come true.”
This summer, Emily’s biggest dream came true when she experienced an internship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI). “This internship was my dream! It’s always been my dream to work in Washington DC and to walk in the same halls as Congress people and be a part of the Nation’s Capital.” She said she kept thinking “I’m actually here. This is crazy, I never thought this was possible. I didn’t think I would get in. Me? In congress? I don't think so!”
As a Policy Intern, her day-to-day experience was a culturally uplifting environment. She learned a lot about policy perspectives, crafting messages to get bills passed in Congress, and gained valuable experience in immigration policy at a national level. “I learned to appreciate a lot about our government and how congress works,” she said, “I learned why things are why they are!”
Her love for her state is clear in her dreams for it, too. Emily hopes to see a more inclusive society. While the Upstate is slowly progressing to be an inclusive and kind place for all people, she wants to do her part to improve the outside perception of the Upstate so we can recognize it as inclusive for everyone.
When asked what advice she would give her younger self and Hispanic youth, she said “Go for big dreams. Take those opportunities, enjoy the time you have, everything will fall into place. I planned out my whole life, but look where I am now! When I stopped stressing about the future, I realized I would be okay.” She hopes to be part of the “push” for higher education in the Hispanic community.
Emily’s heart is to clear up misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding documentation and attending college. “There are wonderful people out there to help you, like the Hispanic Alliance. Trust me, no dream is too big to accomplish.”