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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.

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

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.

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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