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No Learning Past the Farm
Viviana Baca Alamillo's mom, a single mother, works twelve hours a day and five to six days a week on a dairy farm.
She and her family live in a home provided by her employer.
Viviana and her mother crossed over the border into the U.S. illegally when Viviana was 3 years old. She remains in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
"I started working in the fields when I was 13," Viviana says. "I'd go to school then do something like pack apples until late."
"It was hard to dream about anything else," she says. "It was what we did."
Taking the Leap
Viviana graduated from a Michigan high school in 2012.
She'd been thinking about going to college—and two things happened that convinced her to try.
First, a good friend who moved around with her family to do seasonal farm work called from Texas. She had some surprising news.
"She told me 'I'm pregnant,'" Viviana recalls. "When I asked her 'Why?' she told me 'I'll end up being a housewife someday anyway.'"
Viviana recalls saying to herself: "I don't want to be like that."
Second, Viviana had spent much of her life taking care of her younger sister, Esmeralda.
"My mom worked nights, so I did everything for her," Viviana says. "I gave her showers, fed her, took her everywhere. It was really annoying when I was a teenager."
One day, Viviana noticed how her sister looked up to her.
"I'd been skipping classes and drinking," Viviana says. "My little sister was looking up to me but I wasn't the best example."
So Viviana went to her mom.
"I want to go to college," she told her.
Degrees and More Degrees
Viviana's mom asked her boss for a $3,000 loan to pay for initial tuition expenses. Since then, she's been paying off as much as she can with each paycheck.
"She's given so much to me," Viviana says.
"My mom left school in the second grade in Mexico," Viviana says. "My uncles left after the fifth grade."
Viviana went on to be the first in her family to go to college.
She's already earned an associate's degree from Lansing Community College where she ran cross country and track. Today, she is pursuing a degree in secondary education.
Setting an Example
"I'm paving the road for my siblings," Viviana says. "It's like leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow."
Sister Esmeralda is now taking college classes. The two young women plan on living together in the future.
Viviana's brother recently connected with her through Facebook from his home in Mexico. He told her that their father had plans to stop paying for his education.
"So I asked him to come to the U.S.," Viviana says.
And this month, she brought him home to Michigan. "I want to give him an education," she says.
Helping Others See Past the Farm
"My uncles used to tell me 'You won't make it,'" Viviana says. "In fact, they didn't believe I'd even enrolled in school."
"It wasn't until I came back from a national track meet in Kansas wearing a runner's bib when they realized it was all true," she says.
One of her uncles has since gone back to school to get his GED. So has her aunt.
"Since I've gone to college, I've noticed the family mindset changing," Viviana says. "What was once such an impossible path is now something my mom understands and believes in and supports."
The Transformation Continues
Viviana has spent this spring as an intern with Representative Alma Adams (D-NC). Pearson sponsored the internship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
Vivianna's experience in Washington has opened her eyes to a whole new world of activism and the needs of people like the ones in her own family.
"The Hispanic and Latino community is in this together," Viviana says. "We're moving the country forward. We're gonna change the world."
One day, Viviana hopes to run for Congress.
"I also want my mom to be done with the farm in Michigan," Viviana says.
She'd like to buy her mom a new house and help her start a new restaurant, serving authentic Mexican food.
"My mom got me further than she was ever able to get in school," Viviana says.
"Everything that's been given to me and my family has been given through education."