Who is Marilyn?
“I’m a first-year biology and chemistry major. I’m hoping to do some research next year then eventually medical school. My end goal would be to work in Syria or the Congo to put my degree to good use. I’m from Mexico. I came to the states when I was 5 months old and I haven’t been back since. I am undocumented. I think personally that takes up a big part of my identity, because it’s something that never goes away and even though I do technically have a visa and permission to be here now, I have to renew it every two years. It is very expensive, and I’m still viewed differently and the fear is still there, and that’s something that drives the immigrant community significantly… everyone is afraid they’re going to get deported regardless of their visa status. The police, people who even talk about Trump scare us into silence. I have DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, which is a new visa that is certainly a privilege that I’m able to drive, work legally and have some protection from certain deportation aspects which definitely gives me the privilege to speak up about some of those things.
I work a lot with the Latino Student Alliance here at Maryville. We’re trying to help students in the area open up and feel more comfortable telling their counselors, I’m undocumented and I still want to go to college. I remember senior year thinking I was never going to go to college even though I was a 4.0 student, National Honors Society member, I took a ton of AP classes, I played the cello, I played soccer, and I was a good student, but I never thought I was going to go because of my status. But it is possible and I want other students to know that.
I’m also involved here with Empower, I’m the community outreach coordinator so I do a lot with the community and with the campus to spread the word. We’re a feminist social justice group on campus. We try to provide programming to educate everyone about issues abroad the gender spectrum. I actually just lead a panel about rape culture where we had a great conversation about how present it is and how important it is to take on those issues.”
What has shaped you to be you?
“I would say being undocumented definitely is a huge part of my life because I wake up undocumented every day. It’s a pretty big deal to me. I don’t get in-state tuition in Missouri so I had to pursue private universities which are a lot more expensive. My family doesn’t have a lot of money because they’re undocumented also so the availability of jobs is very limited. Being undocumented here really takes up a lot of who I am. Especially now with everything going on in America, people view undocumented people very negatively. Undocumented immigrants are good for this country. The 11 million that are present have contributed positively to the country’s success.
My dad is an alcoholic in recovery. He drank a lot when I was younger but he has always worked hard. He owns his own mechanic shop. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 7 and passed away when I was 11. If she had healthcare she would have lived. This had a huge impact on me and has driven me to focus on education and healthcare with organizations like the Latino Student Alliance. Healthcare is so tough because a lot of Americans don’t even have healthcare so it’s next to impossible to get people to listen about immigrants having health care. Since we’re undocumented, we can’t access any health care at all. We don’t have social security numbers; we don’t exist here. That was really difficult because my mom went through immense pain and without access to healthcare had to just deal with it. Before she was diagnosed, my parents went to a lot of free clinics in the city over and over for about six months until finally, they paid for a specialist who found the cancer, but it was too late. She received chemo for a few years before she passed. I remember asking my dad about a year ago if he thought she would have lived if we had had health care and he said absolutely. I dated someone who had a lot of health problems and for her, being an American and having health care anytime she needed anything, she could just schedule an appointment and get an MRI or whatever she needed, which was so strange to me. Undocumented immigrants won’t even go to the doctor no matter how much pain they’re in because they’re afraid of getting deported. It’s something that really bugs me a lot because my mom was a really down-to-earth person and she loved everyone. I remember when she was at home during hospice when she was pretty bad, we had over 50 people in our little two-bedroom house every day for those three months.”
Has your sexuality had a big impact on your life?
“Yes, my sexuality has definitely affected me a lot. I’m very comfortable where I am now in my own skin and with my identity; I’m bisexual. I’ve been out since I was in the eighth grade. My friends were kind of just like “well duh” but my family took it very hard. They are all Mexican and in Mexico, if you’re gay, you’re under a lot of scrutiny. My best friend went to Mexico to visit family in Mexico City, one of the more progressive, liberal areas of Mexico, and a week after she left, they found someone’s head in an alley; he had been killed for coming out as gay. Even my dad had watched one of his cousins get kicked out of the house for being gay. When I first came out, my family tried to sit me down and talk me out of it and ask me what was wrong, which was really hard on me. My dad was not okay with it. I think a lot of it was the social pressure because my family is very judgmental and likes to gossip. But gradually over the years he’s now become very comfortable with it and loves me and stands by me no matter what. My aunts and uncles, however, are Jehovah’s witnesses and they are still not okay with it. Last summer I had my graduation party in Lake of the Ozarks, and I brought my girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend). We were supposed to be there having a good time, but I could feel the tension. I had remembered my aunt had said no couples but I kind of brushed it off because it was my party. I asked my cousins why my aunt said that and they said it was because she didn’t want my girlfriend there because they didn’t support homosexuality. I was really surprised because they had said it in front of my girlfriend. She was very distraught about it, because it was her first time meeting my family and she wanted them to like her, but instead they pretty much told her she’s going to hell. I made the decision right there to pack our things and leave and drive the three hours home. I thought maybe my family would react and be willing to talk to me and try to understand, but they did not. My dad tried to talk to them for about an hour and they said that they wouldn’t accept it and that it was his fault that I’m “this way.” This was very hard, because I was very close with all of these people growing up and now they don’t think I’m okay. I hope to get more involved with the Maryville University Gay Straight Alliance soon.”
What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?
“At 15, I was really quiet and even insecure. My advice would be to do what makes you happy and do what you want to do. That’s what my mom told me right before she passed away; those were her last words. So I would say just do what makes you happy and do what you want to do, because there is nothing like feeling trapped… and I would say especially to pursue my passion for social justice. When I was 15, I was really into world history and I got to learn about different cultures like Islam and the black community and it definitely dispelled any myths I had and I got to know people at a different level.”
What have you changed your mind about in the past few years and why?
“I would say I used to think social justice work was never going to accomplish anything. I thought I would never be someone at a protest or would be an activist because I just thought that wasn’t the way to change things. The way I used to think about change was that it was just arguing with people. I’ve realized now through maturity it’s so much more than winning. It’s all about educating. Conversations are so valuable not only with like-minded people but with people who have totally different beliefs than you. If we’re looking for change, we have to look for the people who don’t align with our values. I think having an educated conversation is so much greater than having an argument but it’s not about that.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
“Hopefully I’ll be almost done with medical school and planning some type of trip to Syria or Iraq, because I think personally that’s really hit me with everything happening over there. The power of social media is so great; I follow a young girl from Syria on Instagram who just got to Turkey and is finally safe now and the way she’s documented everything it’s just something I can’t ignore.”
What’s one of the greatest life lessons you’re going to use to achieve your goals?
“I think the diversity and inclusion office has taught me that privilege is something that you should be aware of. I have certain privileges, and even though I have a lot of struggles being an undocumented woman of color, I know I have the privilege of being able to go to this university and get an education. I’m going to have a lot of privilege and a lot of power in my hands which is why I want to do good with it. We all have a duty and a responsibility to do good in this world.”
What do you have to say to people who see feminism as a derogatory term?
“I think feminism is so important, yet so misunderstood. It is really just seeking equality between genders. We are not a man-hating group. We really are just trying to take on issues that affect people because of their gender. We had a panel called The Day of the Girl Child where we addressed in other countries the privileges men have and the oppression women sustain. Even if feminism scares you or the word turns you off, the ideology behind it is something that’s really hard to be against if you actually understand it.
Personally, I ask them to educate themselves on these issues and to have an educated conversation with me. Even though America is free, that doesn’t mean oppression isn’t present.”