More

What comes to mind when you think of undocumented immigrants? Probably not Julissa Arce.

This young woman proves there are no barriers — physical or otherwise — when it comes to achieving your dreams.

When you first meet Julissa Arce, you might assume she's like lots of other ambitious young women just looking for her own slice of humble American pie.

And she is. But she also lived with a huge secret for years.

Image by Julissa Arce, featured with permission.


Julissa was an undocumented immigrant who became a citizen two years ago.

She came to Texas from Taxco, Mexico, when she was 11, in 1994. Her parents got her a tourist visa, but when it expired three years later, she didn't go back to Mexico. Instead, her parents enrolled her in school. As Julissa notes in her book, her parents never addressed the expiration of her visa until it was too late.

Today, Julissa is 33 years old. She became an executive at Goldman Sachs before age 30, which might make her seem like a 100% success story. And she is. But her fight to get to where she is today shows us a lot about living as an illegal immigrant, too.

Her life story will hit home for anyone who says undocumented immigrants are only here to steal U.S. jobs.

(Just tell them to read her new book, "My (Underground) American Dream.")

"There’s so much that hasn’t been told ... and I really need to tell the whole story," she said about writing her book. "I need to tell not just the victories, but also people need to understand the suffering and all the pain that went into getting to where I wanted to get and I couldn’t think of a more timely time to tell the story."

Julissa first realized the severity of her position while in college.

Julissa was a strong student in high school, but she still experienced a roller coaster of emotions when it came to attending college. Because she was an illegal immigrant, it was entirely possible that she wouldn't be able to attend at all.

Then she read about House Bill 1403 and was told to call then Sen. Rick Noriega's office. Her grades earned her a signed letter from the senator to the University of Texas in Austin asking them to consider Julissa's application. She was in.

But it wasn't smooth sailing from there.

She had purchased fraudulent papers with a fake Social Security number because she was so nervous about staying in America without correct documentation. Her parents and younger brother had decided when she was 18 that it made more financial sense for them to go back to Mexico, but because she wanted to go to college, she stayed, alone. How would she pay for her apartment or her tuition or her books? Julissa got a job and got to work. She manned a funnel cake stand, and she worked at a call center, taking any job that would pay the bills.

In her book, Julissa explains her heightened anxiety during college. She couldn't risk presenting any sort of ID at a bar or club, so she rarely went out. Driving meant risking a traffic stop that could potentially lead to deportation because she didn't have a driver's license.

Julissa speaking at The Berkeley Forum. Image by Julissa Arce, featured with permission.

There were also the more obvious sacrifices, like the comfort of family. Julissa couldn't visit her family once they went back to Mexico. She couldn't risk attempting to come back into the U.S. with fake papers. There was too much at stake. That also meant she had to spend holidays (including Christmas) alone.

This is one of my favorite pictures that I share in "My (Underground) American Dream". I dedicated the book to my mom, Luisa, and my dad, Julio. Today marks the 9th anniversary of my dad's passing and not a day does by that I don't wish I had been by his side in his last hours. It hurts just as much as it did on day one. In his honor, in his memory, I share my journey. My biggest wish is that not a single daughter, father, son, mother would have to be separated. The cost of my American Dream was too high. I share some painful moments about my relationship with my dad in the book, but the way I will always remember him is by his smile, his laugh, his jokes, his silliness! He used to call me Juliana. So today call me Juliana.

A photo posted by julissaarce (@julissaarce) on

Julissa's grades in college were stellar, and she also became involved in the Hispanic Business Student Association, serving as president in her final year. Her work ethic and grades were so impressive, she managed to land one of a few coveted internships at Goldman Sachs before her senior year. She left such a positive impression with them that she secured a job as an analyst with the financial firm before graduation.  

She met a guy in Manhattan, and they got married. That's what got the ball rolling on her path to becoming a U.S. citizen. But when it came time to take the oath in August 2014, it was an understandably emotional moment for Julissa.

In her book, Julissa writes that as she looked around the courtroom, she knew every person in there had worked hard for this moment. "America is still the shining beacon of the world. I kept wiping away my tears, simply overwhelmed to think that this day was finally here, and that never again would I have to live in fear of being deported from the country I loved. Never again would anyone be able to question that I was American."

What does this once-undocumented immigrant think about immigration reform?

She thinks we need a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in America. But she also points out that much can be done at a state and local level, too. Local governments can give people access to driver's licenses, and they can allow for in-state tuition costs for undocumented students as well.

When it comes to 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Julissa admits she's disappointed that we've given him a platform: "The problem is that whether he wins or loses — the damage has already been done, and we have a lot of work to do to repair the damage that he has done over the last 18 months that he’s been running his campaign."

Julissa's future isn't slowing down either, which excites her.

Her father died nine years ago, in 2007. She was climbing her way to the top at Goldman Sachs at the time. She recalls in her book slipping into a conference room to cry before composing herself and walking back out to face her coworkers.

Now that Julissa is a citizen, she can visit her family in Mexico whenever she wants to. But she also says she's found her true calling — and it's not on Wall Street. She wants to help other people like her looking for a path to citizenship. She has come out the other side of her incredible struggles a successful woman and wants to share the wealth of her knowledge with those who need it the most — undocumented immigrants who want to earn their way into the country.

During one week in October 2016, Julissa was in New Orleans on Monday, hosted a talk at Berkeley on Tuesday, was invited to the White House on Wednesday, and pitched a TV show on Friday. She's currently working on a TV show inspired by her book, too. America Ferrera is producing the series, making the rounds with Julissa in L.A. as they pitch the show.

Julissa with America Ferrera. Image by Julissa Arce, featured with permission.

Julissa says talking about her story is cathartic, but it's also incredibly important for other immigrants.

In fact, she has a simple yet powerful message to all the young, undocumented immigrants living here now: There's always a way.

"You can’t give up and that the road is tough but, at the end of the road, is your goals and your dreams," Julissa said. "You just can’t give up. You’ve gotta be really strong in your convictions and you gotta know that all of your sacrifices are … your dreams are worth your sacrifices."

I can't wait to see what Julissa does next, and as a fellow Latina, I'm thankful for her perseverance in chasing her dream in spite of the unimaginable obstacles, for the way she's reached such impressive heights at such a young age, and — most importantly — for how she is coming forward to share her powerful story to help others obtain their American dream. Every story matters.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

True

The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

Keep Reading Show less
Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

Screenshot taken from a live video of the trial.

A recent (and fairly insensitive) sketch from “Saturday Night Live” said it best regarding the widespread fixation many have on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial:

“It’s not the most pertinent story of the moment, but with all the problems in the world, isn’t it nice to have a news story we can all collectively watch and say ‘glad it ain't me?’”

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

Schadenfreude, celebrity fascination and previously inaccessible information now being at our fingertips is a potent combination in this trial, making amateur lawyers and psychologists of all who feel compelled to unleash their hot takes. And though the right to converse and speculate exists, is it always in our best interests to do so? Especially when it means potentially spreading misinformation, or at the cost of empathy and compassion?

Keep Reading Show less
Photo from Upworthy Library

A proud sloth dad was caught on camera.

Teddy the two-toed sloth has become a proud papa and thanks to a video posted by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, we all get to witness the adorable reunion with his newborn son.

Mama sloth, aka Grizzly, gave birth to their healthy little one in Feb 2022, which delighted more than 3,000 people on Facebook.



The video, posted to the Florida zoo’s YouTube page, shows Grizzly slowly climbing toward her mate, who is at first blissfully unaware as he continues munching on leaves. Typical dad.

Keep Reading Show less