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UC, Berkeley

Lizette Barragan Cervantes

2020 BAGSF Essay

Growing up I often heard the phrase “la vida es dura,” which translated means life is hard. 

 When I was seven, my parents divorced and I moved back to Mexico with my Dad and my mom stayed in the US. Because we were not US citizens I couldn’t visit her which was lonely and scary. My siblings and I were too young to understand why we went back and it was confusing. Then when I was eight my father died, and my siblings and I moved back to the US to live with my mom.

Since my father’s death, my mother has been the only provider for my two siblings and me. We have always struggled financially because she is undocumented, doesn’t earn much cleaning houses, and Bay Area rent is expensive. To save money my mom decided we should move in with her partner. My mom and partner don’t have a healthy relationship and argue constantly. It's hard to feel safe and secure. My older brother, who is a citizen, is the only one who could help financially. The only job I could do is babysitting and dog-sitting because I’m undocumented with no SSN. Not being a citizen of a low-income family has made me feel left out from educational opportunities. We can’t afford fees for programs, camps, and activities. Lack of citizenship has prevented me from applying for many scholarships, loans, internships, and jobs. 

While I can’t erase my family’s financial hardships and citizenship issues, I am doing all I can to help us cope. I help my mom by cooking dinner, which is also a stress reliever for me and closely unites my family. I help my younger sister academically and try to be a good role model. Many weeknights I babysit (unpaid) my undocumented aunt’s four young children. I feel good about helping my family, but these responsibilities keep me from participating in many activities and clubs and finding time for my studies. While there aren’t easy answers to our problems, my longer-term goal of going to college will help my family become more stable and financially secure.

Because I moved into elementary school between Mexico and the US, it was difficult to comprehend subjects in both languages. The only subject that was the same in both countries and I completely understood was math. In seventh grade, a talented teacher helped connect my love of math with science. He saw something in me other teachers didn’t and encouraged me;  science became my favorite subject. In my sophomore year, my advanced biology teacher grabbed my attention through exciting lectures. Last summer, I took BIOL 110 at community college. It was a fast-paced class, allowing me to understand the scientific process through experiments and collaborations with other students. My final project about vaccines was controversial because of the anti-vaccine movement. So I presented the pros and cons of vaccinations and explained the science behind it. This project introduced me to the topic of immunity and encouraged me to take human biology senior year, which is now inspiring me to major in biology and pursue a career in medicine.

With the many challenges I have faced, I have many firsthand experiences with “la vida es dura”. I’ve learned life can often be hard and bring many obstacles, but I can find ways to overcome these challenges with strength and support. I have done my best to pursue higher education and overcome hardships. While other people facing similar challenges might give up, I have strived and persevered. My attitude is to find a way to overcome any obstacle life brings me.