For undocumented immigrants, access to higher education comes with many barriers. Not only are they unable to pay in-state tuition at many schools across the country, they’re also rarely eligible for financial aid. While 23-year-old undocumented immigrant Elizeth Argüelles receives scholarships to attend Dominican University, the young woman has also funded her education by selling tamales – something she’s done since arriving in the United States.
Elizeth first came to the United States in 2002, and from the beginning, she would wake up early to help her mother sell tamales. Her days started at 3:30 a.m. when she was an elementary and high school student. At that time, she’d help her mother prepare the cart, and she’d sell along her until 7:30 a.m. when she had to head to school. As a child, she might not have understood that her mom was an entrepreneur. She was also bullied by classmates who called her a tamalera and picked on the way she spoke. But by high school, she appreciated the work her mom did for their family.
“In high school, I started to realize how my mom was just a business owner, and I was very lucky that she was able to be home with us, go to meetings, to pick us up after school,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “I would see my mom struggling to push her cart through the snow and … if she can do that, who am I not to try to seek solutions? It kind of shaped me into the woman that I am because I’m really not afraid of working, I’m not afraid of finding solutions because I know that my mom was able to make something out of nothing.”
In 2014, Argüelles was able to pay for tuition at Morton College. And now a few years later, the same job is helping her pay for her classes at Dominican University. The young woman sells tamales on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday, and she also has a part-time job as a youth career guide. Argüelles has certainly shown that much like her mom, she has a strong work ethic. (However, it’s important to note that the amount of work she needs to put in to fund her education is not fair and should not be normal.)
Elizeth is on track to graduate in 2020.