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Most college students can visit their grandparents whenever they want. For Maria Garcia, it wasn’t that simple.
Garcia was brought into the country illegally when she was 3 months old. So until 2012, when she received her green card, Garcia wasn’t able to visit her native Mexico.
After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School, Garcia was finally able to make the trip she had been yearning for since she was a child.
The trip, which allowed her to see cousins she had never met in person, ended up lasting the entire summer.
After returning to Dallas, Garcia realized she had missed the application deadlines for her top college choice, the University of North Texas. There was no back-up plan.
“One of my friends called me and asked what I was doing with school,” Garcia said. “I told him ‘nothing,’ and he recommended Eastfield College. It wasn’t on my original list of schools, but there was still a week left to apply, so I did.”
The fallback option ended up being a blessing for Garcia, who immersed herself in the college experience and took on new leadership roles, including the presidency of the Communications Club. Earlier this month, she was named the Student Leader of the Year.
Speech professor Courtney Brazile, who co-advises the Communications Club, witnessed Garcia’s rise to leadership.
“Maria is really involved,” Brazile said. “She leads by example. She’s just really passionate about the club and she wants the club to do well.”
Garcia has also been active in Rising Star, making a strong first impression on adviser Jema Lopez.
“I was looking for a work-study student,” Lopez said. “A former Rising Star student, Luis Martinez, introduced me to her and we just went from there.”
Rosa Cuevas worked with Garcia at Rising Star, and they joined the Communications Club together in 2013.
“She’s really dedicated,” Cuevas said. “When she says she’s going to do something, she does it. When it comes down to business, she’s the one you can go to to get things done.”
Cuevas ran for the vice president of administration position for the Communications Club in the fall and won. After some hesitation, she decided to put her name on the presidential ballot. She was elected president on Aug. 27.
Selena Ollervides, the club’s treasurer, said working with Garcia as president has been rewarding.
“She’s a leader,” Ollervides said. “You can see it in the way she talks. It’s amazing. She’s a year younger than me, but sometimes it seems like it’s the other way around.”
Garcia said the recognition is a new experience for her.
“It’s like ‘Wow, people are actually seeing all of the things I do,’” Garcia said.
Outside of school, Garcia is an activist for immigration reform, serving as the immigration chair of the North Texas Dream Team.
“When people think leader, they think of these illustrious people sitting in offices with their big fancy suits,” Garcia said. “But when I think leadership, I think a person getting their hands dirty to help other people.”
Garcia began meeting with political leaders, which was an eye-opening experience.
“One of the Republican politicians said ‘You’re breaking the law just standing in my office. I should have you arrested and deported.’ It felt like a slap in the face, but it was also a taste of reality,” Garcia said. “When he said that, my heart kinda just sank. He’s telling me you can’t go to school, you can’t do crap because you don’t have a Social [Security card]. You’re not recognized as an American legally.”
Garcia went home and angrily asked her mother, “Why didn’t you just keep us over there?” It wasn’t until after graduating high school that she realized just how much her mother sacrificed for her to be where she is today.
“She really went through a lot to get me here,” Garcia said. “All of the struggles I went through keep me grounded. It’s something to remind me of where I come from.”