Waving her diploma over her head, Guadelupe Rojas walked across the stage, shook various university officials’ hands, and laughing took a bow as her family and friends in the bleachers cheered, whistled and applauded.
Her brother, Kiko, who will earn his teaching degree next year, blew a horn that noisily played the first notes of “La Cucaracha.” “Go, Lupe!” yelled her high school history teacher, a retired judge who had recognized her potential when she was a ninth grader – and tried to get her to pursue law as a career. Her grade school’s cafeteria manager stood on a chair, applauding loudly. Her longtime soccer coach blew a referee’s whistle and whooped. His wife blasted a boat air horn.
At the microphone, a dean in cap, gown and academic sashes smiled. “Congratulations, Lupe,” he said. “Best of luck.”
He knew all too well that the young Mexican native will need it. Although Guadelupe graduated from the Honors Program with honors and a double major in physics and math, she faces a grim future. The job market is dismal enough for ordinary college grads; it’s far, far worse for kids here illegally.
Lupe was born near Reynosa, Mexico.
When as a six-year-old, she showed up at her first youth soccer practice, her coach asked where she was from.
“Mexico,” the first grader told him in amazingly good English. Kiko – his real name is Enrique – was four at the time. “My Mommy and Daddy had to wait until nighttime and they waded across the river. But my uncle and my aunt have papers, so they met us at Burger King and drove me and Kiko across. We pretended to be asleep. When the border guards tried to wake us up, we acted like we were sleepy. In English, I kept saying, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ like I was dreaming. We fooled him!”
Solemnly, her coach listened. “Lupe,” he said quietly. “That is a great story. Now, you have to promise me that you will never tell it to another Anglo. That story has to be a secret. Do you understand me?”
Soberly, she nodded, her eyes enormous. She never told the story again – to anybody. By the time she was a fifth grader, she and the coach’s daughter, also a fifth grader, were assistant coaches for the local soccer league’s kindergartners. As seventh graders, the two became referees. In eighth grade, Lupe started coaching her own team of third graders.
Lupe did great as a coach and player
Although she was a starter on the high school varsity girls’ soccer squad, she earned a full scholarship to the U of A because of her grades, her SAT and ACT scores, her class standing and her years of community service. She had a 4.3 grade point average – the extra .3
points for taking college level classes. She was a member of the National Honor Society, the International Club, the marching band and the school’s volunteer-oriented Beta Club.
Now, as other graduates showed their diplomas to friends and family, she hugged her longtime buddy, the coach’s daughter, who was going to go work for a law firm.
Lupe had no such job prospects. Despite having achieved the highest grades attainable in the Honors Program –all A’s all four years, she is unemployable. Well, not exactly. She works as a waitress in a local Mexican restaurant where Kiko is the dishwasher. They’re both paid in cash – because neither has a Social Security card.
The law says she shouldn’t be here. She should be deported immediately to Mexico.
However, Lupe is as American as anyone. Her Spanish has a discernible Arkie drawl to it. She would be a fish out of water in Mexico. She has no family south of the border, no friends and few memories of her early years there. Her Spanish isn’t even that good.
Shortly after her kindergarten year, her parents split up – and her father took all the family’s papers with him, including birth certificates and passports. Her mother, a hard-working, resilient woman, worked in a local poultry plant using false I.D. and saved up enough money for a down payment on a house – then on two rental houses. But even now she has no permission to be in the United States. They are all illegal aliens, undocumented Mexican nationals living illicitly in the United States.
“I don’t know what to do,” says Lupe. “I’ve got an impressive degree and a nice resume, but I can’t get a job anywhere legally. I can do yard work. Or child care. Or wait tables. If you pay me cash.”