By Haven Bradshaw

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Chautauqua lecture series featured Julissa Arce on Thursday, September 28. Arce is a Mexican-American woman who defied all odds and attained the “American Dream” while undocumented.

Arce came to America with her parents when she was 11 years old, and became an undocumented immigrant when her visa expired. She became a U.S. citizen after marrying an American and after going through a long process to obtain her citizenship. She officially became an American citizen in 2014.

Her life story is not just about her pathway to citizenship, Arce said, but it is about her journey to success, to the “American Dream.” Arce said her mother was one of her main cheerleaders towards this dream.

“My mom, she had really pumped me up on this American Dream,” Arce said. “She believed that, in order to achieve the ‘American Dream’, there was a pretty simple formula you had to follow:

Working hard + Staying out of trouble = The American Dream.”

She followed this formula all the way to Wall Street, Arce said. She added that when she thinks of this story, her story, she thinks, “That’s not an undocumented story, that’s an American story.”

In-between telling her personal story, Arce also debunked many myths about undocumented immigrants and the path to citizenship. Arce started with the myth that everyone who comes in this country came here illegally.

“In fact, 40 percent of the undocumented people in this country never crossed the Mexican-U.S. border illegally,” Arce said. “40 percent of us had a visa that, at some point, expired, whether it was a student visa, or in my case, a tourist visa, or a work permit.”

Arce spoke about the difficulty of attending college. She said her parents returned to Mexico and left their business for her in order for Arce to have college money.

“Undocumented students cannot receive any kind of federal financial aid,” Arce said.

Arce said the myth about undocumented people that bothers her the most is the question of “why don’t you just make yourself legal?”

“If there had been an application I could have filled out 20 years ago, I would have,” Arce said. “If I could have sat in a line and paid whatever fees to be able to fix my immigration status, I would have.”

Arce listed the four paths to American citizenship. The easiest way to citizenship is having legal parents. Second, a person interested in obtaining citizenship had to have a very specialized, high-profile job. The person could marry a United States citizen as the third option, Arce said. Finally, an immigrant could return to his or her original country and enter legally, but returning to their country of origin would trigger a 10-year ban from the U.S.

Arce also spoke about the potential removal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA). She said she encourages those in the program.

“Our hope has to go beyond a piece of paper,” Arce said. “You are American, and we cannot let anybody else tell us otherwise.”

The Chautauqua lecture concluded with a Q&A session and a standing ovation. Those in attendance had positive feedback. Arce also signed her book after the lecture.

Megan Tolliver, 21, senior occupational science major said she only came to the lecture for a class assignment, but she left the lecture having an “eye-opening” experience.

Steven Jones, 19, sophomore psychology major said he attended the lecture because he wanted to hear Arce’s story. He was pleased that she finally told her story.

“It’s good to hear others’ stories, learn more about their backgrounds, and what others have been through,” Jones said.