“If I could be a citizen, the first thing I would do is travel back to see my family.”
Estefany was born in Izotepec a small town in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, not far from Acalpuco. When she was very young, her parents moved to South Carolina to find work, so until the age of eight, Estefany was raised by her grandparents, until her parents sent for her. Her father paid a coyote as a guide, but she and her two brothers had to cross the border separately. When it was her turn, she and her middle brother were caught by the police. Little Estefany spent ten days in jail. “I remember thinking that I would never see my grandparents or parents again,” she recalls. Her second attempt to reach her parents was successful, and she began to live with them in the countryside near Pelzer, South Carolina.
Estefany felt strangely at home because the countryside was so similar to Izotepec. Learning English and going to school was a daily struggle, because there was no ESOL teacher at any of the nearby elementary schools. For an entire year she woke up very early, and took two buses, 45 minutes away, to work with a teacher that could help her. Estefany was aware of stereotyping and racial comments about Latino immigrants as she grew. The biggest complaint was that immigrant workers were taking the jobs that belonged to Americans. “It wasn’t directly said to me,” she recalls. Yet it impacted Estafany’s view of her place in society and made her concerned for her parents. “I really didn’t trust people until I knew them really well.”
Though she was adjusting and getting a good education, she and her family were completely separated from her grandparents in Izotepec. When she was 13, her Grandfather, who served as her father for her early years, passed away suddenly. Estefany remembers this as one of the most difficult and painful parts of her situation in America. She could not go back to go to his funeral, she could not comfort her grandmother – once she crossed the border, she never saw him again.
Still, her motivation to get a good education drove her forward. She went to Woodmont High School, and was admitted to Bridges to a Brighter Future. Here she received both encouragement and a reality check. She was undocumented, and would be barred from attending a public college, at least in South Carolina. Regardless of her barriers, “…everyone that worked there inspired me to do something great,” she says. “Their motto, ‘Go Forth and Do Great Things,’ stuck with me.” She continued college preparations despite her misgivings, and in 2012, in her Senior year, Estefany received an unexpected gift – the opportunity to apply for DACA. “It meant that I had an opportunity to go to college – that was the whole reason we came here. DACA was a huge victory!” she stated. The Bridges program provided parent sessions for the family to help them understand how important college was for Estefany’s future. “Applying to colleges was a really exciting moment, and my family was also excited.” As an avid soccer player, Estefany was also eligible for soccer scholarships. She was accepted to Newberry College initially, but was disappointed when the money for the soccer scholarship fell through. Instead, she decided to attend Greenville Tech for her first two years to get an Associate’s degree in Business Management. In 2014 she attended her freshman year of college as one of the first class of DACA students ever accepted at Greenville Tech.
While Estefany was living her dreams, her family remaining in Mexico was living a nightmare. “Innocent people die every day,” she said. Warring drug cartels and police corruption was increasing at an alarming rate in Izotepec. A cousin of hers was lost to the violence. It was so dangerous that people could not leave their homes to work. Estefany’s family put all of their money into hiring a lawyer to apply for a visa to get their family out of Mexico. The visa was denied. This sacrifice left the family in such a dire financial situation that Estefany withdrew from school for two years to help rebuild their losses.
Estefany endured further instability in her future, when the Trump administration began working to end the DACA program. She insists, “If DACA ends everything ends for me. Back home doesn’t offer anything.” In response she decided to reapply to Greenville Tech and finish her degree. She reasoned that if she was deported, at least she could take her education back with her. If DACA persists long enough, she plans to attend Newberry College for her final two years for a Bachelors in Business. Because she loves math, she would like to work in Accounting or Banking.
When asked about her dreams, Estephany immediately knows what matters to her: “I dream of having a good stable job and owning my own house. My dad and brother are working so they can send money back, so I want to contribute as well.” About her family left in Mexico, she says, “I believe they would be safer in the US. They will have jobs, and sustain their families.” An additional goal is to help other DACA students and give them advice. Estefany believes that DACA recipients should have an opportunity for permanent status in the US. She especially wishes for DACA students to be allowed state financial aid and tuition rates.
For now, Estefany stays centered by playing soccer, and connecting with her friends, family, and heritage. “I’ve loved soccer all my life. It’s a way to relax and get distracted from real life problems.” Her team at Copa Indoor Soccer won the finals in their league this year. She loves her mom’s cooking and the comforting sense of heritage at always having Mexican food on their table. She loves celebrating the Catholic feast of Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe with her family close to Christmas time. Being Catholic is central to her heritage and reminds her of how her grandparents would take her to mass every week as a child. Estefany explains, “My grandmother is very spiritual. Every time we talk to her on the phone she says, ‘God bless you,’ and I say, ‘You too, grandmother.”