Fear. Uncertainty. Shame. These are some of the obstacles many undocumented students face on their way to success, but without having to look hard, we can find students who demonstrate resilience and perseverance such as Monica Robledo Cornejo, Sonoma State University’s first undocumented commencement speaker.
In 2001, Robledo came to the United States at the age of six and immediately enrolled in school.
According to Robledo, being undocumented forced her to face extensive adversity in achieving her academic goals, and to live in constant fear of deportation, a reality that many undocumented students face on a daily basis.
Despite this adversity, Robledo battled on and eventually graduated from Sonoma State in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in queer studies.
During her senior year, Robledo became the president for the UndocuScholars Coalition, a club that provides services, information and advocacy for the undocumented community on campus.
One of the club’s achievements was the creation of the Undocu-Resource Center located in Salazar Hall. Robledo said that it was only through extensive advocacy, emails, and meetings with President Sakaki that the center came to be, and admits that there is still a lot to be done by the current presidency to improve the center.
Robledo said that when she was growing up, the reality of being undocumented hit when she couldn’t apply for a job or a get a driver’s licence. Thanks to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better knoSwn as DACA, she can now accomplish this.
DACA, an Obama-era immigration policy, is now being threatened by the current administration, and several undocumented students fear the termination of the program, including Robledo.
“In school, I was told I was a hard working Mexican,” Robledo said. “That I had hard-working hands and was going to continue on and work in the fields.”
Instead of allowing these words to hinder her perseverance, Robledo continued her studies, which eventually landed her in college.
“It wasn’t until I hit my second year at the junior college that I was told education was an option,” Robledo said.
Robledo took this information to continue her studies, and she plans to go even further by enrolling in graduate school and pursuing a communications major this upcoming semester at UC Santa Barbara.
Mariana Martinez, a faculty advisor for the McNair Scholars Program, said that Robledo tends to see a way to find justice.
“She’s very focused on what she needs to do, not only for her but to open doors for other folks who are in her situation,” Martinez said. “It’s also the fact of being the oldest, like one needs to protect people.”
Through her extensive involvement in clubs and organizations, Robledo has impacted many other Sonoma State students.
Jacqueline Echeverria, a senior and early childhood studies major, met Robledo on campus through the Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social Summer Institute, where they did volunteer work together.
“Monica is friendly, very well spoken, very down to earth and is always willing to help others,” Echeverria said. “She’s a source of inspiration because although she was faced with many obstacles, she overcame them and has set such high goals for herself.”
While she pursues her graduate studies, Robledo said she will continue to work for the UndocuScholars Coalition as an advocate and mentor.
She will also continue her efforts to be an advocate for other members of the undocumented community.
Robledo said she looks back on her commencement ceremony as a prideful moment and said that her peers and mentors feared for the outcome.
“Being the speaker and actually coming out in front of so many people is something that my mentors told me not to do,” Robledo said.
But their concerns did not stop Robledo from speaking.
“I want to show others that this oppression that we’re under is no longer accepted,” Robledo said. “I want to be a part of a movement that creates change for the betterment not only of my community, but of all minorities and to be not only an example, but a force of ‘Join me, together we can do this.’”