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17: Embracing Life as an Undocumented Immigrant (with Kenia Calderon)

Kenia Calderon was born in Santa Ana, El Salvador, and migrated to Iowa with her parents when she was 11 because her country was becoming extremely dangerous due to gang-related crimes. Kenia is now 22 years old and will be a senior at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa this fall. Since being in the U.S., Kenia has learned to embrace her struggles as an undocumented immigrant and has become a strong immigration activist, helping others to succeed despite their hardships.


Nuggets of Wisdom from Kenia:

“I've been able to buy my parents home and keep and maintain 2 jobs while going to school full time. It hasn't been easy, but it's been a crazy ride and I wouldn't change any of it.”

  • “Find someone who doesn't look like you and talk with them, learn their story.”
  • “If it doesn't make the world a better place, don't do it.” ~Kid President (Youtube)
  • “When you're undocumented you carry such a heavy load, from depression to uncertainty and fear of deportation. And even though I'm protected from deportation because I have a work permit, my parents aren't. So we could be separated at any time. So that's something that I think about every day, but I've found ways to turn those negative aspects of my life into a positive ones. And that's when I learned to embrace the fact that I'm undocumented in this country. I came illegally and I was that criminal that everyone talked about in the media. Once I started to embrace my identity and really understood that we had no other choice but to do it this way, I became unafraid to tell my story and to motivate others to do the same.”
  • “I tried so hard during high school to have the best grades. I fell in love with volunteering because I couldn't work because of the lack of documentation. I was what you would call the perfect high school student: good grades, well-behaved, and loved to volunteer, but that still wasn't enough for colleges to want me. I still needed social security [card] to almost validate that I was worthy enough to receive a college education.”
  • “I was making this bad experience into a positive by sharing how I've been able to overcome some of the obstacles I've had and just by talking with other youth that was going through the same struggles as me… I like to think that because they knew that I was making it work that they could make it work, too.”
  • “Because I talk about immigration I tend to have a lot of haters, meaning a lot of people that disagree with me and believe that I don't deserve to be in this country. And I understand everybody has a different world view and I respect those differences…. I've dealt with a lot of depression this year.”
  • Kenia lists the top 3 misconceptions that people have about undocumented immigrants: “1) We take advantage of welfare, 2) we are criminals, 3) we are uneducated and rough people.”
  • “That summer before I started college I worked three jobs…. I was able to pay for the first 2 years of college out of pocket by myself. I had to work my butt off, literally, to pay for college.” 


Some of Kenia's Favorite Things:

  • Personal habit: “Using my creativity whenever I can. I'm an artist. Some of the best ideas I've had have come to me when I'm drawing or painting or throwing clay on the wheel.”
  • Easy meal: Caesar salad with grilled chicken.
  • Possession/Book: Monsignor Romero (about a priest who during the Civil War in El Salvador was able to be the voice for the farmers who were being killed)
  • Kenia's vision for the future: “I see myself working for a company that aligns themself with my values and working my way up to an executive position because I feel we don't have enough women in those positions…. I see myself having a future in politics. The ideal thing for me would be to be governor…. I want to be governor because they have a lot of executive power so they can make things happen at a state level and Washington is very messy so I don't want to get involved with that.”
  • “I'd also like to take better care of myself in the future and put myself first before I can impact the lives of others.”


Kenia's Happiness Formula:

“I am the happiest when I'm taking care of myself, when I'm taking care of others, and when I'm taking the time to continue my learning about different human beings around me from different backgrounds and learning their stories and where they come from.”


A Challenge from Kenia:

“This week I want to challenge everyone listening to talk with someone who doesn't look like them, even if it's just saying, ‘Hi, how are you?' to someone that you normally wouldn't. Because I feel like it will really help you to learn about the world and outside the country that we live in.”




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About jen

Jen Riday is a mom of 6 and life coach who loves to help women experience massive happiness as they let go of stress, sadness or other chronic emotions of negativity.

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