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Mario Tzalan

Country of Origin: Guatemala

Age of Arrival: 1.5 years old

Hometown: Inwood, NY

Degree: Marketing


Thanks to TheDream.US scholarship, I am excited and proud to say I’m enrolled as a student at Baruch College in New York, where I hope to study marketing.  I want to work for a company that not only does marketing for goods and services, but also has some kind of social impact mission. What is the purpose of being human if you cannot find a way to make a difference?

Like most people, my family members are those who have made most of the difference in my life. Their support and their sacrifice has meant everything. I came to America from Guatemala when I was one and a half years old, and I celebrated my second birthday here. America, then, is the only country I’ve intimately known, and it has always been home to me. Guatemala is where my ancestors and where parts of my culture originated.

Since I was so young when I moved here, I don’t remember much about the adjustment. I do remember struggling a bit in school in 1st grade learning to read, because we spoke two languages at home — Spanish and English — so I felt different from the other kids.  My family had different traditions than other families and households, and that was also hard at times. My older siblings were Americanized but my parents weren’t. It was a melting of two different cultures in my household. When I was young, that made me feel a little out of place, because I didn’t how to identify myself. For the most part, though, growing up wasn’t too bad. My family wasn’t wealthy by any means, but I had everything I needed. I attended school like everyone else.

My first fond childhood memories are from Queens, New York. I was lucky enough to have a mother who loved to cook, so guatemalan food will always make me feel connected to my birthplace. Although, the only things I even know about Guatemala are stories from my mother’s upbringing and her adventures. I have researched the Guatemala’s demographic and its history, but my heart and soul are in New York, it’s the state that raised me.

Even though I was fortunate to grow up in a place like Long Island and call it home, I definitely did not feel like I had equal access to educational opportunities, compared to my friends and peers.  In high school, I didn’t eagerly or aggressively pursue ambitious tracks, including college planning, simply because I didn’t feel like any of them would be possible for me.  Looking back, I wish I approached some of this differently, but it is hard when you lack papers: you don’t feel as deserving as other kids. You feel ashamed for your life as if you did something wrong, I remember my guidance counselor asked me why I hadn’t applied for college during my senior year of high school. I was embarrassed to tell him in the truth, I felt that I may get in trouble. I didn’t have the most well-formulated answer for him; I just felt defeated.

Even though I felt limited in my opportunities for some time, I still completed my Associate’s degree at a community college in my county.  It is one of the best in the country, actually.  I had to pay out of pocket; I didn’t know about this scholarship program at the time.  It was an incredibly difficult journey financially for my family, but it unequivocally proved to me that hard work pays off.  I am the first in my family to graduate with any type of college degree.

After graduating with my Associate’s degree, I knew that pursuing my Bachelor’s degree was important to me.  However, I could not fathom how I was going to afford going back to college, and so I began to tell myself that my Associate’s degree would have to be enough.  Deep down, though, I knew there had to be a way.  I desperately wanted my Bachelor’s, and I think I was willing to do anything. I had grown up a lot from my high school years, and I was determined to let go of any self-doubt and make it happen. I found that there is always someone willing to lend a hand, when I met a past recipient from the The Dream.US Scholarship, and she informed me about the possibility. I knew I had to give myself the chance to pursue my goal.

Now as a student at Baruch College, I want to get involved in activities that I shied away from in high school.  It feels like a second chance for me.  I have a different mindset now, and a renewed determination.  This scholarship has given me stability and confidence to purposefully work towards realizing my dreams.  This scholarship has taught me in no doubt that kindness goes a long way and can change someone’s life, in big or small ways. I plan on doing exactly that with my accomplishments to show everyone that an immigrant like me can rise against negativity and prove that we as humans in this country matter. This country was created on immigrants, and I will prove once again that can be the case. It’s up to this generation of immigrants to show our value. We contribute to an ever-changing society, and, in many ways, are the historical backbone of this country.

Being a DACAmented immigrant has given me the opportunity to work like a normal person. I get to pay my taxes . It makes me feel happy to know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to. I work and pay my bills. And working has made me responsible and has again showed me the ability to take charge of my own life. I am finally being recognized as a part of this country and I almost feel complete.