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Cristina Velasquez

(Miami Dade College)

When Cristina Velasquez moved to Wisconsin at age 6, she didn’t say a word to anyone in either English or Spanish for months. She was smart. She could read and do arithmetic. But she wouldn’t talk.

One day, she recalls, “All of a sudden I started speaking English out of the blue.” She doesn’t remember why. “I guess I was just soaking it up.”

She’s been soaking up learning ever since. Her mother never had to check her grades or ask if she had done her homework. “Even as a child I was very responsible. I always did well, and if I didn’t do well, it wasn’t because I wasn’t trying. “

Her immigration status didn’t matter in Wisconsin. “Whenever people would ask me where I was born, I would say ‘Venezuela,’ but they would think I said ‘Minnesota’,” she recalls.

In high school in Miami, she took honors classes. She got good grades. She tutored math in underserved communities and was vice president of the student government. But she wasn’t eligible for scholarships and couldn’t afford the much higher out-of-state or international tuition her status required.

She took a year off, worked as a receptionist and saved money for her first semester’s studies.

Now 19, she has enrolled in the honors program at Miami Dade College and wants to become a lawyer. Her scholarship from TheDream.US means that she will be able to stop working so she can join the honors’ society. She’ll continue tutoring and aim for a summer government relations program. Being able to leave the job and focus on her studies is “a weight off my shoulders,” she says.