How Noemi Valdez Went From Only Hoping to Sell Raspados to Becoming a Harvard Student

I didn’t know that I wanted to go to college. I didn’t even know that it existed or what its value was. I remember when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, “I wanted to sell raspados.” Yes, you read that right, sell shaved ice.

I’m from the very poor city of Mexicali in Mexico. I was never exposed to revolutionary jobs or careers. I never wanted to be an astronaut, a lawyer, or an engineer. Never anything so ambitious. But that all changed when my family and I immigrated to the United States.

Credit: Noemi Valdez

Nine years after the journey across the border, I will call Harvard my new home where I will begin working toward degrees in applied mathematics and archeology. I will take a suitcase packed with fears, nostalgia, and hope — a replica of what my parents and I packed when we immigrated to the United States — and attend this Ivy League School.

I cannot deny the fact that there is a tremendous amount of pressure on me to succeed. As ironic as it sounds, the same amount of pressure is on me to fail. I know that as an immigrant, minority, first-generation student, and female attending Harvard, I am breaking norms, standards, and defined regimes that have been imbedded in my culture for decades.

Credit: Noemi Valdez

There are many lessons that I have learned. One of the ones with the most impact has been the fear of failure. This feeling digs deep down into your skin and arises only to inhibit greatness from being able to shine through. The fear of receiving a rejection letter was the one that almost stopped me from applying to the university I will now be attending. If I had not pressed “submit” on my application that day, I would not have the opportunity to reach thousands of aspiring students who share my same story. I have learned that living with failure is easier than living with regret.

Credit: Noemi Valdez

I know that many people want more out of life…I am one of them. I want to succeed not because I have hundreds of eyes on me but because I have hundreds of hearts with me — those of my sister, my neighbors, cousins, and those in my community.

Nine years ago, I left a trail of tears. Tears that followed me all the way to the United States. These were tears of extreme sadness at having to leave my family and my life. Now that I think about it, those tears have become tears of joy. Tears of gratitude towards my parents for allowing me to have what had been ripped away from them, a college education.

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Miguel Aguilar Could Have Been Deported but Now He's a Pro Soccer Player


Miguel Aguilar Could Have Been Deported but Now He’s a Pro Soccer Player

Miguel Aguilar is a rookie midfielder for D.C. United of Major League Soccer. 

D.C. United selected Aguilar, a native of Juarez, Mexico, with the No. 17 overall pick in January’s MLS SuperDraft. And the rookie out of the University of San Francisco hasn’t disappointed. The 22-year-old Aguilar has already played in 17 matches for playoff-bound D.C. United.

Aguilar is also the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient to sign a major league sports contract. 

Aguilar grew up in the middle of a drug war. He was raised near the border of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, once considered one of most dangerous cities in the world. Aguilar never wanted to leave Mexico, but his family had no choice. According to the Washington Post, Aguilar’s sister was nearly kidnapped and one of his uncles fell in with the wrong crowd.

Aguilar and his family left El Paso and headed to California. 

On his 11th birthday, Miguel Aguilar and his older brother Andres jumped into their grandfather’s truck and headed to Sacramento, California. Aguilar’s older sister, Claudia, and mother, Carmen, joined them in Sacramento where the Aguilar family started their new life. Miguel enrolled at Encina Preparatory High and focused on soccer, while his sister and mother worked long hours to support the family.

Aguilar was a high school star on the pitch, but he would often come home to an empty home. 

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See you soon 💛💚

A post shared by Miguel Aguilar (@migue.an17) on

“I was pretty much depressed,” Aguilar told Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee in 2010. “I missed my brother, who was like my father. It became kind of hopeless as I came home every day to an empty refrigerator. I would cry every day at home. I gave up on school for a while.” (BTW, that’s Aguilar with his longtime girlfriend).

Thanks to his soccer coaches, Aguilar turned the corner academically his junior year and never looked back. 

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Tbt to graduation 🎓🌉 #USFCA #Homies

A post shared by Miguel Aguilar (@migue.an17) on

Aguilar earned a full ride to the University of San Fransisco and graduated in three and a half years with a 3.7 grade-point average and a degree in finance.

He was MLS bound after a stellar career with the Dons. 

Aguilar was a second-team all-league selection three times in the West Coast Conference and made first team as a senior.

Aguilar gained legal status two and a half years ago under DACA. 

DACA is a government policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before age 16 to avoid deportation and gain a renewable work permit.

But being a pro athlete doesn’t get Aguilar through customs any faster when he’s at the airport. 

Credit: @migue.an17 / Instagram

When Aguilar travels abroad with D.C. United, he carries a Mexican passport and special work permit. Despite the paperwork, Aguilar sometimes gets stuck at airports for hours. One time, Aguilar was delayed for so long that he missed a team flight after returning from a match in Costa Rica.

Sometimes, his status has affected his pro career.

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A post shared by Miguel Aguilar (@migue.an17) on

Aguilar wasn’t able to join United for a match in Vancouver earlier this season because he was waiting for a work permit renewal.

Aguilar says he’s not sure which soccer national team he’d play for – Mexico or the US – if given the opportunity. 

Miguel Aguilar

“I still feel my roots are in Mexico, but it’s close,” Aguilar told the Washington Post. “My love for the sport, it all started in Mexico, but here is where I realized my dream.”

Even with all the soccer success, Aguilar still finds time to give back to his community.

Credit: The Sacramento Bee / YouTube

Earlier this year, Aguilar visited students at his alma mater, Encina High School to encourage them to pursue their dreams. “Never forget where you come from. That’s one of the things that has stuck with me,” said Aguilar to The Sacramento Bee.

After rough times in in Juárez, Miguel Aguilar and his family are living the American dream. 

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Playing tourist for the day #Lincoln #DCU

A post shared by Miguel Aguilar (@migue.an17) on

Miguel’s family struggled for years to make ends meet after leaving the violence in Juarez. The Aguilars’ hard work and determination paid off. Miguel’s brother owns a restaurant, which his mother helps run, while his sister is earning a degree.

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