We all face trials and tribulations. For Sofia Nuñez, being an undocumented citizen is her motivation to fight for her dreams, and graduating college is a significant step towards the life she wants.
Sofía was born in Morelia, Mexico, and was brought to the United States by her mother when she was five years old. Having grown up in Houston, Sofía began college at the University of Houston - Downtown before she transferred to the University of North Texas.
"I knew from orientation that I could see myself as a student," Sofia says. "I fell in love with the spirit and community at UNT. It's welcoming, has a positive vibe and it's a safe space to be yourself."
Life as an undocumented college student was difficult. According to Sofía, being undocumented means less financial aid, fewer opportunities and consideration for minimum wage jobs only.
"I feel like an outsider," she says. "It's tough because no one can relate to me."
Sofía's status presented challenges growing up as well. Her mother tried to maintain a household while working for restaurants at minimum pay. Sofía and her family could not get health insurance so they constantly faced high bills, even for an average checkup. Sofia is ineligible for loans, so she could not buy a home and does not have a driver's license.
"I use the struggle as motivation," Sofía says. "I push forward and work towards my goals. I do what some documented people would not even imagine. I have not fooled the system, nor have I done anything wrong."
As an Ecology student, Sofía's favorite class was Philosophy for Environmental Science.
"That class was life-changing," she says. "I stopped drinking milk and I've been a vegetarian for two years. After that class, I knew I belonged at UNT."
Sofía was most impacted by lecturer Ana Paula Hoeinghaus and advisor Brandy Ellis. She was especially touched by Hoeinghaus' clear love for the environment, and felt "inspired to see someone that came to the states" just like Sofia did. Ellis's support, both academic and emotional, was invaluable.
"Whenever I was sad or needed help, [Ellis] was always there for me," Sofia says. "She'd email me to ask how I'm doing, and she always tried to find scholarships because of my financial situation."
With graduation on the horizon, Sofia is full of hope. She looks forward to continuing her education back in Houston.
"I'm hopeful that I will not have to live undocumented much longer," Sofia says. "I'm proud of my drive and positivity, and I want to experience more of life, work with nature, protect the environment and travel more."