A day after 9-year-old Elizeth Arguelles arrived in Chicago from her native Veracruz, Mexico, she learned how to make tamales.
Thanks to those tamales, Arguelles, now 23, is able to pay for college tuition.
Her mother, Claudia Perez, began working as a street vendor so she could save money and bring her children, including Arguelles, from Mexico in 2002.
After joining her mother in Chicago, Arguelles would get up at dawn to help make tamales. She awoke at 3:30 a.m. to help prepare the cart and go out to sell them until 7:30 a.m., when she would then run to school.
“I used to get bullied a lot for not speaking English right or for the way I dressed,” Arguelles said.
She said the insults motivated her to prove that though she was an undocumented immigrant — now protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — she would accomplish her goals.
The tamales allowed Arguelles to pay for community college tuition at Morton College in 2014. They’re now helping her pay tuition at Dominican University, from which she expects to graduate this year.
Arguelles also works part-time for a nonprofit. She’s working on a degree in international business.
“The experience that I have by selling tamales is unique because in just one morning, we can see the whole world,” Arguelles said. “(We see) people of different backgrounds, ages, classes. (It) helps me be more advanced and open-minded.”
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