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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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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