A Texas high school student walked to the U.S.-Mexico border last weekend to make sure her father, a deported immigrant who missed her graduation ceremony, could see her in her full regalia. Video of the emotional reunion has now been viewed more than 2.6 million times on Facebook.
Sarai Ruiz’s father, Estaban Ruiz, was deported to Mexico when she was just 4 years old and living with her mother in Wisconsin, according to Global News. When Ruiz was 7, she moved with her mom to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico to be closer to her dad; the girl crossed the border into Laredo, Texas every day to attend school.
On Friday, she became the first person in her family to graduate high school when she received her diploma from Hector J. Garcia High School — but her father was unable to step onto U.S. soil to attend her graduation ceremony. So Ruiz decided to bring the celebration to him instead.
Dressed in her cap and gown and wearing all the medals she’d received from her academic achievements, Ruiz marched to the middle of Laredo International Bridge, where the borders of the United States and Mexico meet. Her goal was to surprise her “papa.”
A camera followed Ruiz as she approached her father and collapsed in his arms, embracing him through tears. On Saturday she posted the tearjerking video on Facebook, and captioned it with a touching tribute.
“I graduated today. I tried so hard not to cry when we saluted our parents knowing that only my mom was there. I knew my father would never see me walk to get my diploma but today I’d thought I’d surprise him by crossing the bridge so he could see me with my cap and gown,” she wrote.
“I have to say that all my life I wondered if my dad would ever see me graduate. It started as not seeing him on Father’s Day, then it continued to be a spiral of downhill emotions where I would only see him once a year. And then things changed. I moved to Laredo and I got to see him every weekend. We bought a house and now I’d see him every day. Today I can say that although we may have lost father and daughter time, I will always be grateful for his sacrifice to put his life at risk many times just to see me again. Gracias por todo papá.”
Ruiz said she remembers the words her father told her on the bridge perfectly. “I will never forget them,” she said. “‘Nobody will ever separate us. Only God can separate us.’”
More than 9,000 people have reacted to the video with love, support and congratulations.
“There is no better way to honor your parents than to achieve your goals in studies,” one person wrote. “I'm sure both of your parents are extremely proud for reaching this landmark in your life.”
“Congratulations for being faithful to your heart and not letting anything or anyone stop you,” someones commented. “This is beautiful! The love of a father who would give everything,” wrote another.
In the fall, Ruiz plans to start studying psychology and government at the University of Texas at Austin, according to the Laredo Morning Times. She worries that living in another city for her studies will prevent her from seeing her father as often as she wants to, “but my mother says that I must follow my dreams and that they will support me in everything I do,” she told the publication.
“Do it again in four years,” someone wrote to the college-bound senior. “He will be waiting again!”
On Tuesday, Ruiz took to Facebook to share the story of a San Diego State University graduate who made headlines for honoring her parents, also Mexican immigrants, by staging a photo shoot with them in California's Central Valley tomato fields, where her parents worked seven days a week as farmers to give their daughter a good life.
Erica Alfaro said in her own viral Facebook post, “With love I dedicate my master's to my parents. Their sacrifice to come to this country to give us a better future was well worth it.”
She told CNN that one day, as she was picking fruits in the field with her parents, she told her mother she was tired. Her mother reacted by saying, “This is how life is going to be from now on. The only people who don't have to go through this get an education.” Alfaro said those words stuck with her, and she shared the moving photos in hopes of inspiring others in her situation.
“These photos represent many of us,” she said. “Our parents came to this country to give us a better life and we wouldn't be here without them.”
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