Nuestra Comunidad: Status not an obstacle for Harvard-bound friends

Karla Chávez and Tania Domínguez first met in sixth grade and became best friends who share everything. College will be no exception. Recently, both women were accepted to Harvard University.

As if being admitted to an Ivy League institution were not a significant enough achievement, Chávez and Domínguez, both students at Centennial High School, also had challenges to overcome involving their legal status: both women are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Chávez and Domínguez had hoped to enroll at local universities, but several years ago state institutions in Georgia closed their doors to undocumented students. What appeared at the time to be a major obstacle turned out to be a blessing in disguise and the start of a new path for the friends.

“I wanted to apply at the University of Georgia, but then I saw that they were saying, ‘we can’t accept DACA students, we can’t give them federal financial assistance.’ My family is low income, and when I saw that they weren’t going to give us that help, I thought it would be a problem,” said Domínguez.

However, Chávez and Domínguez, who are also leaders of Hispanic Organization Promoting Education, an organization dedicated to promoting the importance of a college education to Latino students, left no stone unturned in their mission of pursuing a higher education.

“For my mom”

When Chávez nervously went to the Harvard website to find out if she’d been accepted, her mother stood by her. Upon entering a special portal, they were greeted with a single phrase: “congratulations.” Tears streamed down both women’s faces.

“I feel like that admissions letter is for my mom,” said Chávez, whose mother supports her family by cleaning houses.

In fact, Chávez’s mother would not allow her daughter to work, so that she could dedicate herself full time to school.

Chávez called her best friend to share the news to find out that Domínguez saw the same life changing message on her own computer screen. In Domínguez’s case, her parents have also dealt with significant financial challenges in raising their three children, of whom Tania is the eldest.

Despite their excitement, however, Domínguez’s parents were initially concerned that they would not be able to afford a Harvard education. Fortunately, both Chávez and Domínguez received scholarships and other financial assistance that will cover all costs.

Example and inspiration

Chávez and Domínguez first arrived in Georgia when they were small children. Growing up, they were met with the challenges of an unfamiliar language, as well as being the only Latinas at most gatherings.

Being the first Latinas on debate team or in other extracurricular activities was a struggle, but they are now able to recognize that their experiences have allowed them to serve as positive examples for others, just as other students served as examples for them.

One of these students was Gary Castellanos, a young Guatemalan man who, four years ago, was also admitted to Harvard. At the time, Chávez was pondering her future and how her legal status might affect it. Castellanos, who also graduated from Centennial, served as her inspiration to apply at the prestigious academic institution.

Today, the young women view their futures with hope. Domínguez plans on studying languages, while Chávez will major in international relations, with a focus on Latin America. Her goal is to continue serving the Hispanic community.

Both Chávez and Domínguez have already laid the groundwork to do so, through their work with HOPE and other organizations, serving other students with tutoring assistance and help with applying for college and scholarships. As well, they have served as interpreters at local churches and schools.

Several months ago, Domínguez visited the city of Cambridge, where Harvard is located, for the first time and was able to get a glimpse into the next few years of her life. Chávez has not yet seen the campus but is eagerly anticipating the next chapter of her own life.

“Don’t be afraid, just try. You always have to try without fear, because if you don’t try you won’t know what you can accomplish. Fear is what stops progress,” said Domínguez.

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