Fear made her a good student. As a young child, Norma Torres Mendoza knew deportation could end her life in the United States. “I would tell myself, ‘You need to get an A on this exam, because this may be the last one you take,’” Norma told Hoy. “I felt that at any moment someone was going to take me back to Mexico, a beautiful country but one that I don’t really know. I walked with this fear, but this fear also gave me the strength to push ahead.”
Now at 25, Norma is graduating with a Master in Public Policy degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. But before she walks down the stage to accept her degree, she’s traveling – approximately 3,600 miles – between Cambridge and Houston to pick up her mom, Carmen, and drive her to Massachusetts. Norma’s mom is undocumented; therefore, she can’t just fly in for her daughter’s big day. Norma is a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, so she’s been able to travel to Mexico to reconnect with her native country.
The road trip is easy. Getting to this moment hasn’t been. Carmen and Norma crossed the border 16 years ago in search for better opportunities. After the terrifying trip – when they finally reached Houston – they couldn’t rest easy because deportation was always a very real possibility. Norma had seen it firsthand.
School also came with difficulties for Norma. Some of her classmates teased her for bringing tacos for lunch. “They were terrible,” she said. “They laughed at my tacos, saying they smelled bad. So I told my mom that I didn’t want tacos anymore, that I wanted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because I want to be American now.”
But her schoolwork didn’t suffer, and it eventually led her to Rice University, where she majored in political science. After a stint at Deloitte Consulting LLP as a Human Capital Analyst, Norma enrolled in Harvard in 2014 to study democracy, politics, and institutions. She’ll receive her degree on May 26.