By Doug McPherson
It seems that any time the word “can’t” is spoken, Nayeli Cisneros Saucedo never hears the “t” at the end.
“I remember people telling me I can’t apply for FAFSA, or student loans, and that I couldn’t go to college without a Social Security number” said Saucedo, who is 20 and will graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver debt-free in May with a 4.0 GPA in Psychology as the 2021 President’s Award winner. “I didn’t take no for an answer, and it worked out.”
It’s not surprising she chose to major in Psychology. She learned early on that life can be harsh and that maintaining good mental health is vital. Saucedo was brought to the U.S. from Mexico at age 8 to escape violence. She recalled that as a child in Mexico she would see in the news that women in her neighborhood were being raped and killed.
“My mom would explain to me how challenging it was to live there, that people could always hurt us, especially for being women, and how much trauma she had experienced as a child,” Saucedo said. “This is when I realized that it was not only about being physically healthy but it was also about being mentally healthy as well, in order to live an optimal quality of life.”
When Saucedo was 7, armed gangsters stormed her older brother’s high school. Her mother rushed to the school with her and her baby brother in the back seat.
“We could hear the gunshots,” she said. “My mom told us to hide under the car seat, and she went looking for my brother. After a few minutes, she came back, but she didn’t find him. We left and ended up waiting for two hours before we learned he was safe. This is the type of fear we would experience while living there.”
And even when her family made it to the U.S., Saucedo said, times remained tough.
“I think the toughest thing knowing I was undocumented and feeling like I wasn’t wanted in this country – that was discouraging,” she said.
Her family had no access to health care and was too afraid to accept or receive any government or public help when times got hard, Saucedo said.
“My mom never hid anything from me,” she said. “She’d always remind us that we could be sent back to Mexico at any time and that we could lose everything. It taught me to always appreciate what I have and that if I worked hard, I could be successful here.”
Saucedo has clearly proved that.
Last September, she received the right to legally work in the United States. And this spring, she plans to interview about attaining permanent status. “That would open more doors for me,” she said.
Saucedo, who plans to earn her doctorate in Psychology, credited MSU Denver for providing support to help her earn her degree.
“(MSU Denver) has so many programs that are helpful, that are made for us (immigrants) and that help us in all aspects, from academic to legal support and even emotional support,” she said. “It’s amazing what the University has done for us.”
As part of her winning the President’s Award, Saucedo will speak to her fellow graduates. She said she is excited and nervous about speaking to her fellow graduates.
“I’ve worked hard to get where I am now, so I want to share my story. I want to let everyone know that anybody can do what I did,” she said. “There’s a belief that undocumented students can’t go to college, and I want to be part of the living proof that this is possible, that we all – undocumented or not – have the right to higher education.”
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