Luchadora Profile: Meet Ariana Aparacio, DACAmented and Headed to Harvard

In college, Ariana Aparicio created a support group for AB 540 students because there was nothing available to them with some limited information on the financial aid process. AB 540 is a California Education Code that allows certain students who attend high school in California for three or more years and earn a high school diploma or its equivalent to be exempted from paying nonresident tuition at California public universities. Ariana understood that other students needed more than just information, they needed support and help understanding what would happen to them next.

Earning a college degree did not necessarily mean that Ariana, like other students, would be able to get hired in the area of their college studies. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to Ariana. She graduated in 2011 earning a sociology degree from Sonoma State University, graduating cum laude and with distinctions, but her legal status limited her career options. After graduating, she went back to helping her mother clean houses and working as a nanny. She shared that neither being a nanny nor cleaning houses were jobs to look down on and that she used to help her mom clean houses when she was much younger. Ariana added, cleaning and caretaking are truly honorable jobs that her mother did with pride and with a strong work ethic. Ariana displays these two qualities in everything she commits herself to be part of.

Ariana was born in Mexico DF to parents from Puebla and Guerrero. She came to the United States for the first time as a small child. She attended Inverness School for K and 1st grades. She attended West Marin School for 2nd grade, went back to Mexico and attended her father’s old elementary school in Puebla for 3rd and 4th grades. She returned to the U.S. at the age of 10 and attended West Marin School from 5th– 8th grades. Given that she lived in a small, rural town, the closest high school that provided its own transportation was Tomales High School.

“My grandparents who raised me in their small town in Puebla, Mexico for the first four years of my life. Since they didn’t receive any formal education, they were illiterate, but managed to raise my cousins and I, and all seven of their own children. I often cite my grandmother Margarita as being at the core of my motivation to go as far as I can educationally and professionally,” Ariana explained.

This fall, Ariana, will be part of the new class of students to begin their journey in the master in education program in higher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Ariana’s journey has not been an easy one, similarly in 2011 when she graduated college, it felt that she would not be able to put her degree to work. However, the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) in 2012 opened the doors to more opportunities. She began to work for a non-profit organization as a College Access Advisor helping first-generation students from underrepresented groups go to college, the same organization that granted her a scholarship. After three years of working for the non-profit, she applied and became an  Academic Advisor for the School of Science & Technology and Undeclared student at Sonoma State. She shared that working at a higher education institution was something that she saw herself doing many years down the road not four years after graduating from that institution. As an advisor, she continued her advocacy for undocumented students.

“Returning to my alma mater, it was my mission to continue the work I had started as an undergraduate student with regards to supporting undocumented students. I made sure I connected staff and faculty with as many resources to help them support undocumented students and also bring awareness and knowledge around the issue. Via these and the efforts of students and colleagues, we were successful in creating the first UndocuResource Center in Spring 2017,” Ariana explained. She subsequently became the first recognized academic advisor for the UndocuResource Center.

Ariana took the lessons learned through the process of founding the UndocuResource Center to the state level. In the spring of 2018, she shared strategies and research based data at the  College Board Preparate Conference on how to use data to establish a Center for Undocumented students at a four year university. She realized then that the work needed to continue and moved to a position where she could have a broader reach and provide critical information about the opportunities for undocumented students in higher education. Ariana then  became the Higher Education Specialist for Immigrant Rising (formerly Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC)) based out of San Francisco. She coordinated the New American Scholars Program to grant scholarships to undocumented students in their pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees. She has worked on creating the first UndocuEducators Group focused solely on undocumented professionals working in some form of higher education at the high school, college, or non-profit sectors. For her, it has been an exciting opportunity to lead this project because it creates professional development, networking opportunities for undocumented professionals and provides them with a safe space to share their challenges, hopes, goals and dreams. Ariana will be missed in Northern California for all of her advocacy for undocumented young adults in their pursuit of higher education and professional careers. Nevertheless, the next step will make her a stronger voice in policy making around issues of immigration reform and education.

Having worked professionally in nonprofits and institutions of higher education has helped Ariana realize the importance of a graduate education. For Ariana, a graduate education will help her further advocate for undocumented and marginalized communities wanting to pursue and access higher education. In particular, the lack of representation of Latinas in leadership positions further inspired her to apply to top universities in the country. This fall semester she will be a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education  pursuing a master in education program in higher education. She will become part of the very elite group of people, as about 4% Latinas have a master’s degree and an even smaller percentage are undocumented. In her short professional life, Ariana has made an impact on others, especially undocumented students. By moving forward in this journey and heading to Harvard, Ariana gives inspiration and hope to her siblings and to other young adults that come from marginalized communities. She will learn from one of the best institutions in the world and push forward to realize her other dreams, which include being a university president one day.

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Mariana Martinez

Mariana Martinez

Mariana G. Martinez, PhD, is the eldest of three and the first in her family to earn a high school diploma and a higher education. She was raised by immigrant parents that encouraged her to get an education so that one day she could work as a secretary and not in a physically laboring job like the fields. Mariana has been an advocate in the field of education for almost 2 decades. Her love and passion in education began as Senior in high school interning at a local elementary school. Currently Mariana is the Research Coordinator for the McNair Scholar Program, a federally funded program that serves first generation and historically low income students pursue the next of their educational goals, at Sonoma State University. She is also a Lecturer in the [email protected] and [email protected] Studies Department.

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