Maria Elena Cruz, PhD
I know firsthand what it's like to be young, want to go to college and also have a lot of family responsibilities. Also, how lost you can feel in trying to apply for college or the fear of walking onto a campus for the first time. Our members don't take these first steps alone. I take great pride in being an academic mom. Together, we overcome the fears and learn how to find and tap into the resources to succeed in school.
People who cared about me changed my life and now it's my turn to pay it forward. The greatest joy for me is to be leading the first LNESC Upward Bound program in the area which can open doors to local young men and women to attend any college or university in the country. This is a big decision and I am dedicated to my students in helping them make the best decision possible.
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas in a neighborhood very much like Oxnard. As young people, we were surrounded with love and good, hardworking parents. But, we didn't have the information on how to go to the next level of our education. It wasn't until the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) helped me, that I began to appreciate no one makes it alone. My first step was to go to Community College, then from there to a four-year school and finally, the university where I earned my doctorate.
Anyone can make it. YES! they can. But, it won't be easy and sometimes with great sacrifice. I had to move far away from where I grew up in order to achieve my dream of going to college. Being away from my extended family has not been easy either. Yet, I am exactly where I was meant to be and you can find your place too. Just start. Wherever you are. However impossible you think it is. Just start. I commit to you, we'll find a way together.
In order to succeed in life, you need to have a reason to do better. That reason for me was my mom and my younger siblings. I had a rough past and many times I thought I would not achieve much in life. My parents divorced. My dad wasn’t really there for me. My mom always working. Having a lot of family responsibilities only made it harder for me. Throughout high school, I had plenty of people doubting my potential, which made me rebel even more. They said I wasn’t going to graduate or get far, but with the help of my mom and three teachers that never gave up on me, I graduated and was able to attend community college. I thought it was suppose to get easier, but it only became harder with every step I took. I had to keep myself grounded and to remember why I was trying to better my life.
Fast forward to California State University, Northridge. I was in a new academic environment which made me feel lost all over again. College was harder than I ever imagined and being first generation in my family to attend college put the pressure on me to do my best. Thanks to my parents, close friends, and the Chicanx Studies Department, I had the support system to help me succeed. The stress of everything made me want to give up. But then, I remembered that I didn’t want to have the same life as before. I wanted something better. My mom migrated to give her kids a better future and that’s what I’m striving for now. Not only do I want to make her proud, I also want my younger siblings to look at me and be proud too. You can always change for the better, all you need is GANAS!