Driven by passion for Latino community, first-gen grad reflects on experiences
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.
Angélica César spent the last three years at Arizona State University seizing opportunities and advocating for the Latino community and undocumented immigrants.
As a dual major studying in the School of Transborder Studies and School of Politics and Global Studies, César participated in a variety of experiences including serving as a Democratic staff intern at the Arizona Legislature, interning with U.S. Representative Mike Levin through the Hispanic Caucus Institute and serving as president of ASU’s Aliento.
“I was able to see the broad concepts that I was learning in class specifically for my civic education and political theory classes and how it actually functioned in the real world,” César said.
As a first-generation student, César said she never expected to participate in any of the experiences she has, or even to pursue a degree.
“I never thought that I would have the opportunity to obtain a bachelor's degree or anything of the sort, just because I never saw it,” she said. Her dedication to obtaining a degree goes beyond the impact it has on her own life, she said she’s also doing it for her family.
“The last time that I got to go to Mexico City, they all greeted me with a huge hug and were just telling me how proud they were that I would be the first person to graduate from college and that I was pursuing the things that I was passionate about,” she said. “I know that it means a lot to them and I know that for instance, like my mom, that's why she came to this country. I know that she wanted me to have these opportunities. So to me, getting this degree is not just about me getting it. It's also recognition for my family and I understand how much that means to them. And I understand that this is a transformational experience for them as well. For instance, my mom has taken up classes at the local community college to hone her English skills.”
César said her experience in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was aided by the encouragement by mentors and professors who answered questions and encouraged her to take on new opportunities, while helping to make sure she stayed on track. Reflecting on her journey, she said her choices have always been intentional and driven by passion.
“I don't take on opportunities just for the sake of doing it. It's all because I really care about the Latino community. I really care about moving forward great work here in the state of Arizona and ensuring that students who come from families like mine or students who wouldn't typically have access to the opportunities that I've luckily had here at ASU, have it in the future and are connected and can find those resources as well.”
César answered questions about her experience at ASU.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I grew up here in Arizona during the era of SB 1070. I have undocumented family members and that kind of served as my call to enter not only the political sphere but also advocacy and organizing. So I knew just from my experiences, and I think from the experiences of my family members, that I needed to become engaged. I really felt the necessity and a kind of responsibility to learn more about politics, specifically immigration policy and economics and how that impacted my family and members of my community. So political science and transborder studies really helped me to hone those interests and to develop my goals as a young advocate.
Q: Did you encounter any challenges coming to or while attending ASU? If so, how have you overcome them?
A: One of the biggest challenges was funding and, as a first-generation student especially, I think just coming in not knowing how I was going to pay for my education was very difficult. But that challenge was overcome through different opportunities that I was able to apply to. I was able to apply to the ASU Sun Devil Family Association scholarship, the director scholarship with the School of Politics and Global Studies and the School of Transborder Studies scholarship. I was fortunate enough that those opportunities were there because I think that had it not been for that support, I would not have had the ability to go out and take on professional development opportunities through internships. I think that I would have been more focused on just working as opposed to studying and really developing professionally during my undergrad.
Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?
A: I'm a part of Kappa Delta Chi, a Latina founded sorority. We focus a lot on community service and academics. I think that just joining and being a part of that has been among my greatest moments as an undergrad at ASU. I was able to find a support system that is much needed, especially when you're in advocacy and you're studying politics and all these things that are constantly changing. Just to kind of have that home away from home on campus, to have people who share your background, share some of your experiences and are really passionate about the same things … I think that's been my greatest moment at ASU.
Q: What skills and/or what experiences have you gained from your time in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that will help you achieve your future goals in life?
A: The College helped me to develop the skills that I needed to be successful at these internships and that I know I'll need beyond graduation in whatever pursuit I take on. It's also helped me to find the issues that I'm most passionate about by providing me with the opportunities both on and off campus to integrate myself into work that's already being done in areas like immigration or education policy. So it's been great in that sense. And then too, having mentors who have guided and paved the way for me to be able to take on these opportunities.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Dr. Simhony. From the first class that I took with her, she always encouraged all her students to be prepared and bold and to ask critical questions both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. And then in my work with her as a junior fellow, she really pushed me to be bolder in the questions that I would ask or to really challenge myself and push outside of my comfort zone and how I was questioning some of the concepts that we were discussing in class. So her advice, it's really helped me not just in the classroom, but I've found it helpful in how I interact now with my coursework and approach professional development opportunities. She really encouraged me to be more confident and bold.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Pursue the things that you're passionate about with no reservations. ASU has so many resources and opportunities for engagement so don't be afraid to just show up. I think it takes initiative from us as students to become involved and to really contribute to campus, don't be afraid to do it. I think that held me back for a little bit and then the second that I was able to realize that nobody was judging me for wanting to be involved — that in fact people are very welcoming — that really helped me.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: It's still in the works as of now. I know I'm participating in a summer institute with Duke law, taking courses on law and public policy and how the laws apply to specifically Congress and then the administrations. I also have received an offer with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee staff to be a legislative fellow but haven’t accepted yet. I think ultimately I really want to take the next year to prepare my law school applications and to really hone my skillset and advocacy, specifically with immigration policy, so that I can be as best prepared to serve in the future as I can.