It has been a little more than a month since I had to say my goodbyes to my father, who left the United States for his hometown in Queretaro, Mexico. The last time I hugged him was on a late-November evening as he entered my cousin’s truck, the car that would take him to the Tijuana airport. “God bless you mija, take care of yourself, and do not be eating too much salt,” he told me as he was getting ready to board the truck. I held his hand and told him not to worry about me. He gave me his blessing and told me that he loved me. What followed was the longest hug I have ever received in my life.
Yet, if not for my participation in Upward Bound (a federally funded program to help prepare historically marginalized, first-gen kids to pursue higher education), I wouldn’t be able to compete at the highest level in my mathematics. More specifically, if not for my childhood friend Hector from the projects, who peer pressured me to apply to Upward Bound at Occidental College (Oxy) – a six-week, residential program – I would be oblivious to the college application process.