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UC Berkeley

Maria Casique Leon

2020 BAGSF Essay

Growing up, I saw my parents work long hours that started at six-am and continued through midnight just to provide my family of six with basic needs. Both of my parents are undocumented. They migrated from Mexico seeking opportunities and a better future. My dad was our sole source of income, working three-jobs since my mom was injured at work years-ago. This year she was forced back to work because of financial insecurity at home. It has been challenging to pay for food, transportation, utility and medical bills, and the increasing rent of our apartment. Given their immigration status and limited education, my parents struggle to have a stable income. 

Because of our financial insecurity, I thought college wasn’t an option for me. My goal was to help my parents work, get a job of my own, and provide opportunities for my younger siblings. However, I’ve always carried a passion for medicine. I want to care for my family and the community’s health. I’d never seen a Latina doctor, so I thought my dream was impossible, yet I continued dreaming. 

My path towards pursuing my goal of becoming a doctor hasn’t been easy. At the beginning of eighth grade, I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa, losing 42 pounds in 3 months. I was in a constant battle, both mentally and physically. I struggled to eat. It wasn’t until doctors told my parents that if I continued losing weight, there was no future for me. Everything seemed hopeless. However, I saw a different path; I stopped envisioning my life defined by anorexia, I knew I had a purpose. I didn’t fully know it back then, but I would find my voice through education. I caught up on five months of schoolwork in order to graduate from 8th grade on time. I did this by dedicating time to teach myself since the hospital tutor wasn’t always available. Long hours of studying made me realize my passion for school. The privilege of learning has offered me a different meaning of recovery; even when I feel that I'm not in control of certain aspects of my life, I know I am in control of my education.

Advocating for my education, I joined Upward Bound and Future Grads, who have assured me that my dream of becoming a doctor is possible and I can go to college despite my financial background. I have learned self-advocacy skills to overcome the barriers of being a first-generation college student. I plan to major in Neuroscience as I want to learn about the “why” and “how” of human behavior and continue to explore my interests through Ethnic Studies and Spanish. As a future doctor, I believe that Spanish and Ethnic Studies will connect me to my community roots and enable me to communicate with my patients in a language they understand. 

There aren’t many aspiring doctors like me— Latina, low-income, and first-generation — yet I want to attend college so I can become one. I am passionate to create access to free medical resources for low-income families like mine and for many communities. I want my story to inspire the younger generation and create those opportunities for them. I know that attending college is the first step towards achieving my goals. And it’s one way I’m thanking my parents for working three jobs, crossing the border, and sacrificing everything for me. My parents have always put themselves first, caring for my family and me. Their work ethic is my own, pushing me to say to my patients and family, “I will do everything in my power, I will help you.”