From undocumented immigrant to inspirational success: How Latina author defied the odds

Julissa Arce was 14 and living in Texas when she learned she was an undocumented immigrant. “I didn’t understand the weight of the secret my mom had revealed to me,” Arce, who is now a U.S. citizen, says of the revelation. Her journey from “living in the shadows” to a high perch on the corporate ladder has inspired an improbable career as a bestselling author — and has changed lives.

To me the word ‘immigrant’ is really about strength. It’s really about how much we give to America of our talents and our hard work to make the country better,” Arce told Yahoo. 

Arce, who went on to become a VP at Goldman Sachs as well as an author, social advocate, and champion for higher education, came to Texas from Mexico on a tourist visa when she was 11 years old. At 14, her visa expired. Arce’s younger brother was born in the U.S.; her parents still had visas; but she was the only one who was undocumented. “Everything about my life was about hiding this one fact about my life, making sure that no one found out, and so I learned how to hide.”

Her second memoir, “Someone Like Me,” which was released in September, is meant for young readers age 10 and up. The central theme: Arce’s own American dream of going to college and overcoming the obstacles of her immigration status. “I found myself saying, ‘Someone like me can go to college, someone like me can become a Vice President at Goldman Sachs, and someone like me was not supposed to make it that far,’ but I did,” she said.

I remember being in middle school and never reading any books in school that reflected my experiences as a Latina, as a Mexican-American, as an immigrant, as a brown girl.”

Arce’s first book, 2016’s “My (Underground) American Dream,” became a bestseller. She’s working with actress America Ferrera to develop the book into a TV show.

Author Julissa Arce at a book signing for her new memoir “Someone Like Me.” (Photo: Courtesy of Julissa Arce)
Author Julissa Arce at a book signing for her new memoir “Someone Like Me.” (Photo: Courtesy of Julissa Arce)

In 2012, Arce started the Ascend Educational Fund to give students, regardless of their immigration status, a chance at higher education. “Education is a human right. Every child, regardless of their ethnicity, deserves to have a quality education,” she said. Arce has been able to award close to $500,000 in scholarships to more than 50 students.

She became a U.S. citizen in 2014. “What really stayed with me is not the tears that I had writing the book but this kind of renewed sense of hope that I got. My American dream now is about opening doors of opportunity for other people.”

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