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UC, Santa Barbara

Geraldine Urgel

2020 BAGSF Essay

My family and I are immigrants from the Philippines. We came to the US to find better academic and economic opportunities. I currently live with my father, while my mother lives in the Philippines. My father is my family’s only provider. He works for a small dry cleaner, and because we are undocumented immigrants, he makes less than minimum wage. As a result, he does not earn enough money to meet all of our needs. For example, I rely on the free meals that my school provides during times when food is short at home. Additionally, I take advantage of every paid internship that I am allowed to participate in to cover additional expenses that I need to pay in school or for my family’s needs. In hopes to earn money, I have also taken rigorous jobs that include attending to the needs of elderly folks while their children are away and taking care of disabled dogs.

As an undocumented immigrant, it is difficult to imagine my future when opportunities are limited for my community. I am not eligible to apply for once in a lifetime internships that would have been valuable for my educational growth. For example, my teacher referred me to an internship in a law firm. Because they required a Social Security number, however, I had to turn down the offer. Furthermore, I face multiple barriers trying to obtain higher education: most college scholarships require legal status to obtain their financial assistance while the scholarships I am eligible for are mostly highly competitive. 

My immigration status also impacts my ability to participate in my community. The fear of being exposed when in public spaces, or even at home—especially at this traumatic time with strong xenophobic energy in the country—forces me to hide behind the shadows of my peers, praying that nobody will suspect that I am undocumented. 

However, I refuse to allow my immigration status to limit my dreams. Inspired by the success of other undocumented immigrants, I look for alternative ways to gain invaluable skills and experience.  I also reached out to my school’s college and career center to find social justice-related programs that accept undocumented students. As I have participated in these programs, I have gained educational and work experience that I know no one will be able to take away from me. For instance, since I participated in an internship at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, I gained the confidence to speak in public, developed critical thinking skills, and broadened my environmental awareness. While volunteering at the Exploratorium, I learned to lead scientific demonstrations that supplemented my interest in marine biology while gaining job skills. Through these experiences, I discovered a strong passion for environmental justice, social justice, and public service. Most importantly, I learned that as long as I continue to be a committed and persevering learner, I will be able to pursue my dreams despite all barriers.

I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue higher education to help my family attain economic stability and to become the change I wanted to see in my community. I aspire to be a marine biologist and environmental lawyer working in a humanitarian field. Through real-life scientific data, I plan to spread awareness about the climate crisis and find solutions to help reduce its adverse effects. I will combine both my passions and college education to create transformative change at a greater political level. Although I live a life of uncertainty presently, one thing is for sure: I will pursue higher education for me, my family, and my community.