Meet Alex: I Got This – Defying Immigration Stereotypes

College application

Santee Peer Leader Alex demonstrating “Tower of Power”

Like a lot of other students at Santee, I come from another country and don’t have a tradition of college going in my family. Even if they wanted me to go, my parents didn’t have the knowledge or resources to help make it happen. On top of the usual challenges, my mom has been sick with three different tumors in her body and head.

My teachers never talked to me about the future. They never asked me who I thought I could be. They didn’t challenge me to go beyond the immigrant stereotype.

The guidance counselor didn’t have enough time to work with each student individually, which is a big problem. It really affected me personally–I had to do an extra year of high school because of an administrative error. The principal apologized and gave me a second chance.

At first I was depressed about not being able to graduate with the rest of my class, but if it hadn’t happened that way, I never would have gotten involved in PeerForward. An older friend, Vanessa Nieves, someone I consider a mentor and coach, recommended me as a Peer Leader. At the time, college didn’t seem like a realistic expectation for someone like me, but she didn’t let me off the hook. “If I went to college, you can too,” she said. “You’re smarter than me.”

She knows me as a natural leader, as a spokesman who raises his hand when volunteers are needed, who doesn’t wait to be told what to do. One of my favorite things to say is “I got this.”

The Peer Leader training was intense. We spent four days on the campus of Bakersfield College, and in that short time we went from a group of strangers to a big family. We talked about what we’d been though in life and found out we had more in common than we thought. There was laughter. There were tears.

And we talked about the future.

When I started my “second” senior year of high school, my biggest priority was mobilizing my classmates to do what it takes to go to college. I didn’t take no for an answer. I talked to them in English. I talked to them in Spanish. I explained about college applications and the opportunities available for scholarships, whether you’re a citizen or not.

I honestly believe my classmates listened to my fellow Peer Leaders and me more than they did a teacher or a guidance counselor. Together, we boosted the college application rate by 50 percent and we have the highest graduation rate in 11 years since school opened.

My fellow Peer Leaders and I proved the power of positive peer influence.

In the fall I’m moving across the country to attend college in Florida. I plan to study a technological field and use my natural leadership abilities—and the skills I honed as a Peer Leader.

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