By Mariana Arana, Senior Manager – Strategy
My college graduation brought with it the words that devastate many international students, “If you can’t find a job in 90 days, you have to go back to your country”. I knew this day would come, but that didn’t make it any easier.
I had moved to the United States from Mexico ten years prior, and it had become a second home to me. I learned the language, built beautiful relationships, and grew to love the culture. I felt I had worked my hardest to land a job after graduation, but because of all the immigration hoops and hurdles, getting a work visa felt close to impossible. Suddenly I was in a position where I was fighting to stay, and my immigration status became the focus of my frustration.
Something was clear to me, however. I wasn’t going to give up on my dream to build the life and career I wanted. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was up for the challenge.
Among other things, my post-college job hunt journey was testy. I must have applied to over a hundred positions just to hear, “You’d be a great fit, but we don’t sponsor international students.” I found myself trying my hardest to hide who I was and where I came from. I even remember trying to hide my Mexican accent and how I pronounced my name during interviews. I believed if I passed as American, I would get a fair shot at getting judged based on my skills and potential, not my immigration status. After a fully transparent conversation, one advertising agency nervously took a chance on me. For that one opportunity, I am forever grateful.
The terms of my employment weren’t simple. I was hired on an extension of my student visa. This meant I would work full-time while attending grad school full-time at night and on the weekends. That led to consistent 60+ hour work weeks for two years.
At first, I found myself going back to my defensive instinct: tiptoeing around where I came from. I began to question this instinct when I was asked to work and present a major new business pitch for my agency. This pitch required work specific to “Mexican moms”. Although I wasn’t a mom, I was Mexican and knew many moms through my network back home. No one else at my agency had this cultural tie and it helped craft the strategy that led us to win the multimillion-dollar business.
This win was the first of many that have come from my unique immigration journey. I now see the value in it and look to get involved with companies and people who do as well. After all, this journey led me to pursue two master’s degrees, one from Northwestern University. It taught me about resilience and fearlessly going after my dreams. It taught me about empathy for others’ hidden struggles. It’s built a character and story I hope will inspire my kids in the future because I want them to look at their Mexican mom and say, “She’s never let anything stop her, so why should I?” My journey has taught me that my immigration status doesn’t define me, but it’s a badge I will gladly wear with pride.