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A Latino Immigrant, who was told to ‘go back to Mexico’ enters Harvard on a full-ride


Magazine, The Immigrant Experience

“One teacher yelled at me, “go back to Mexico,” while another teacher told me that she envisioned me at Harvard one day, and I chose to remember the words of the second teacher, which inspired me to dream big”.

These were the thoughts and remarks of 17-year-old Agustin Leon-Saenz, a first-generation, Latino immigrant, who made his decade-old dream come true by getting accepted into Harvard College on a full-ride between scholarships and financial aid.

While delivering the valedictory at the graduation ceremony of Albuquerque High School, Leon-Saenz said, “This is a very special opportunity for me to represent my community on such a big stage … I’m a first-generation Latino immigrant from Ecuador, I’m in the bilingual seal program at my high school and I’m very proud to represent my community.”

I came to the US at the age of six 

Narrating his life story, Leon-Saenz said that he came to the US permanently from Quito when he was 6 years old. Although a lot of fears had engulfed him when he entered the US, he started dreaming big, even in the presence of very harsh circumstances.

He was scared, and uncertain about his future. And sadly, during his early years in the US, he was subjected to racism, and xenophobia, which took a heavy toll on him. Those were the years, when one of his elementary teachers in Florida had yelled at him, “go back to Mexico.”

He had to face absurd questions about his background, and the pointing gazes of people, who used to look daggers at him. But he turned his dream into reality and proved those wrong who tried to pigeonhole him based on his ethnic background.

“I would tell 6-year-old Agustin, first of all, I’m so proud of him. Me personally, and then together with my family, we had to do a lot to be able to immigrate.”

Leon-Saenz’s parents moved from Mexico to Florida, where they lived along with the family for almost two years, and then relocated to Albuquerque. They took all this trouble just to give their children all the opportunities that they couldn’t have in Ecuador, especially educational opportunities.

For his parents, his admission to Harvard has made all the sacrifices worth it.

Among other challenges, young Leon-Saenz also faced a language barrier. Being a native Spanish speaker, he had to take elementary classes in a second language, English.

During these uncertain times, a ray of hope brightened his world when his fourth-grade teacher told him that she envisioned him at Harvard one day.

“These words of my teacher”, said Leon-Saenz, “acted as a source of inspiration for me and motivated me to dream big.But the main motivation I have today to succeed is the sacrifices my parents made to give me the best life opportunities possible. I’m forever indebted to them for sacrificing their today for my tomorrow.”

Leon-Saenz isn’t the only immigrant who dreamed big and then turned them into reality, there are hundreds of other migrants, who  travel on the path to success even in the midst of challenging circumstances, while playing their role in making America what it is today.

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