Alumni, Students Share “What Immigrants Look Like”

On June 16, Donald Trump made waves when he announced his Presidential candidacy. His speech, which was controversial for a few reasons, was singled out by a majority of the media for a passage on Mexican immigrants.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

In response, Liliana Llamas, BJ ’15, created a hashtag, #WhatImmigrantsLookLike, to increase the visibility of immigrants and break down stereotypes.

“Let’s show the world why immigrants matter—who we really are,” Llamas wrote. She tweeted a photo of herself beaming and holding up her brand-new UT diploma, standing next to her mother and sister, and captioned the image, “Daughter of immigrants, chasing the American Dream. This is #WhatImmigrantsLookLike.”

Llamas’ idea quickly went viral, with hundreds of young immigrants and children of immigrants sharing images and stories on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. More than a dozen of them were UT-Austin students and graduates—three of whom spoke with the Alcalde about their path to the Forty Acres and beyond.

Rey Cepeda, BA ’15

Rey Cepeda has always been a high achiever. Between internships, a freelance business, and recently graduating with a degree in government, Cepeda made a name for himself during his time at the university. But in a conversation with him, it becomes rapidly clear that he’s most proud of his family. Cepeda immigrated to the Rio Grande Valley with his family when he was 8 years old.

“They relocated so that my siblings and I could attend school in Texas and learn English,” he says. “My parents made the commitment to leave everything behind so that my siblings and I had a chance for a better future.”

It appears his parents’ hard work has paid off. In fact, Cepeda cites their dedication as one of the major factors that led to one of his greatest accomplishments: attending and graduating from the University of Texas.

“[My parents] worked so that someday I could obtain my college degree. Two months ago, I had the privilege of completing the milestone, one that could have never happened if it wasn’t for my parents, who decided to take a leap of faith,” he says.

Since obtaining his degree, Cepeda has refocused his goals. For now, he is working in marketing, and he’s also planning to attend law school and eventually become a community leader.

Kori Rady, BA ’15, BS ’15, Life Member

Kornel “Kori” Rady served as UT’s student body president during the 2014-15 school year, and unlike many who have held that office, he got things done. Rady helped start the Safe Ride program to provide students with safe late-night transportation home, and his work to keep the Flawn Academic Center open 24 hours a day has helped many a struggling student. He also started Texas Together, a group designed to bring together different kinds of UT students. But Rady was more eager to talk about his family’s history than his own achievements.

After hearing success stories from friends and family in the U.S., Rady’s father left his native Debrecen, Hungary for Galveston, Texas, in 1990. He was forced to come alone, and his partner, Rady’s mother, remained in Hungary while he worked to establish himself. But once they had saved enough money, she immigrated and they were reunited in Texas. They were married shortly thereafter in Galveston.

The rest plays out like a classic American success story. Rady and his sister were born a few years later, and after a significant job offer, they relocated to Houston. His father is a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston while his mother is a medical sonographer. His sister, a current UT student, plans to pursue nursing after graduation.

Rady describes the nostalgia his parents feel for their home country, but notes with pride that they never abandoned their American dream.

“My parents immigrated to America in order to find opportunity. Once they arrived they never looked back,” he says. “Witnessing their risk and hard work led me to always invest myself fully in anything I participate in.”

Rady left UT with several internships and two degrees in government and communication studies. This fall he is headed to the SMU School of Law.

Cassandra Jaramillo, Class of 2016

Cassandra Jaramillo calls in a hurry, moments after ending a shift at her Wall Street Journal internship in New York City. Although she’s been working since the early morning, the excitement in her voice is infectious.

As first-generation Mexican Americans, Jaramillo and her parents built a new life from scratch when they immigrated from Monterrey, Mexico, to the Port Aransas area. Her father, who worked odd jobs in Texas during the summers from the age of 16, spent years dreaming of a excellent education for his child. So when Jaramillo was just a baby, he left for America to search for a better life.

While working in America, Jaramillo’s father asked everyone he met, from coworkers to friends, where the best schools in Texas were as he tried to build a foundation for his family. After hearing glowing remarks about a school in Port Aransas, Jaramillo and her mother immigrated to Texas. Her father, after spending nearly two years away from his infant daughter, finally had obtained his dream of giving her a first-class education.

Jaramillo has not forgotten her family’s heritage and remains an advocate for immigrants as she tackles college life at one of the highest ranked universities in the world.

“Different perspectives and cultures are what makes our country rich,” she says. “Mexican immigrants are the hardest working people I know.”

Jaramillo plans to graduate with a journalism degree in the spring of 2016. “I’ve made it so far because this country has been so great to me,” Jaramillo says.


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