CALIFORNIA – At 13 years old, Gretel Quintero came across the border from Mexico to the United States without documentation: her single mother had a dream of a better life for her children.
“It was very difficult, it was definitely a challenge for me. Because I didn’t know the language — I didn’t know English at all,” Quintero shared her experience. “It was really hard to come to a new country, without friends, to a new school system, where I did not know the language or how anything works and being the daughter of a single mother who I hardly saw; because, she was working all of time. So I felt lonely for the first year. It was a challenge but my focus was to learn the language and get used to the system here. It was definitely very, very hard.”
Quintero graduated from Stockton Unified School District’s Franklin High School with more than a 4.0 GPA.
“When I came here my mom told me that if I got good grades I would get my residency after a couple years. So, I believed in that and I knew I wanted to pursue a higher education.” Quintero dedicated herself to do as best as possible in academics. “I was so dedicated into it that in school I always carried a dictionary with me to learn the words I didn’t understand.” She highlighted that having the language barrier made homework take forever to complete.
Even with the burden of learning the language Quintero furthered her education to the University of California at Davis. “I knew I wanted to go to college,” said Quintero whose commitment to higher education was inspired by field trips to several college campuses in her middle and high school years; the field trips were part of the Migrant Education Program.
“It was a very good, a great, experience for me. They definitely opened so many doors for me and ultimately my eyes,” she is greatful of the opportunities she received.
In conjunction with Migrant Education, Latino Partners for a Healthy Tomorrow connected her to an organization for Women in Politics which helped her in choosing her area of study.
Women in Politics granted Ms. Quintero an opportunity to visit Washington DC. It was in that field trip that,
“I thought okay Political science is where I should go.”
However, being an undocumented student at a University was not easy. While the California DREAM Act had passed; college funding was difficult and federal and state student aid impossible.
Gretel is the first one to go to college in her family, “It was definitely hard because I didn’t have a guidance telling me —you have to do this or you have to do that— so I had to go out of my way to figure it out.”
To afford her college she needed to work and fundraise but, that presented a new set of problems — finding an employer who would be flexible to grant her employment without documents.
Quintero found the student aid office lacked the information she needed as an undocumented student. “They wouldn’t tell me much information” she found the support she needed in student based organizations like the California Dream Network that advocates for undocumented individuals.
Today, Quintero is a graduate of UC Davis and recently got her residency. She lives in the bay area working for an Immigration Law Firm as a Legal assistant and plans to continue to law school.
Her advice for students, “Find your network of who is going to help you and if you don’t feel comfortable; find someone in a similar situation. Do not be discouraged. There are so many more opportunities now and I think that more are coming.”