Things That Matter

This Latina Used Her Business Savvy to Launch An App That Helps Undocumented Students Find Financial Aid

In senior year of high school, Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca was told by her school’s guidance counselor that her dream of attending a four-year college was not in the cards for her. Salamanca, who had just found out that she was undocumented, had worked up the courage to tell her counselor about her immigration status. Instead of the support she was looking for, she was instead met with a discouraging response. “…She said to me, ‘People like you don’t go to college,’” Salamanca recently told Remezcla. Salamanca, needless to say, was devastated. 

Unfortunately, due to Salamanca’s status as an undocumented immigrant, she wasn’t eligible for federal financial aid. And because Salamanca was one of 11 children, she didn’t have the financial means to pay for college out-of-pocket. According to Salamanca, the conversation with her guidance counselor broke her “into a million pieces”. “This was the moment where I lost all hopes of being the first in my family to go to college”. But in the end, Salamanca had the last laugh. 

Years later, Salamanca used this experience to inspire her to create “Dreamers Roadmap”–a free mobile app that helps undocumented students find financial aid for college. 

While Salamanca was unable to take the traditional educational route that many entrepreneurs take, she instead used her grit and business-savvy to commit to changing the system that had failed her. “It took me a while to realize that I was probably not the only one in this situation,” Salamanca told Forbes. Once she had that revelation, she decided it was up to her to fix the problem. Instead of taking the traditional four-year college route, Salamanca enrolled in community college and got to work building her own business.

First, Salamanca devoted herself to creating a blog that gave undocumented and low-income students information about scholarship opportunities. When realized that she was one of 3.6 million Dreamers in the U.S. who were unable to qualify for federal financial aid, Salamanca realized she had an un-tapped market on her hands. Deciding to go a step further, Salamanca decided to create an app specifically for undocumented students who were looking to fund their college education. Despite having no formal background in tech, she applied for tech competitions–like the 2013 Hackathon for Dreamers. She left that competition with renewed confidence in both her ideas and her leadership abilities. It was then that she committed to both bringing her app idea into fruition and taking on a role as CEO.

Spurred on by her initial success, Salamanca decided to try her hand at the Voto Latino Innovators Challenge in 2014.

At the time, Voto Latino (founded by Latina actress Rosario Dawson) had put out a call for “Millennial-led projects that will improve the lives of and expand opportunities for Latinos in the U.S.”. Taking a leap of faith Salamanca decided to apply for the priciest grant: $100,000. Although she had no idea if she’d win, she decided it was worth a try. ” I thought to myself, ‘Well if I win even half, that’s a huge win for my project'”. And it seems that Voto Latino recognized the potential of her project as well.

Salamanca was ultimately chosen as a finalist for the competition and entered the final rounds in Washington D.C. as the only community college student as well as the only sole-female founder. At the challenge, Salamanca pitched her project to a panel of all-star judges that included Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, and Wilmer Valderrama. Apparently, Salamanca made an impression. Voto Latino gave “Dreamers Roadmap” a grant of $100,000 towards funding. 

Now that Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca is CEO of her own company, her future has never been brighter. 

Salamanca has come a long way from being told that college is “not for people like her”. Now, Dreamers Roadmap has over 30,000 users and is integral to the college-admission process for many undocumented students. Not only was Salamanca named a “Champion of Change” at the White House in 2014, but she also received a House of Representatives Award in 2015, and placed in Forbes’ prestigious 30 Under 30 list. Although she has encountered numerous obstacles in her life due to her ethnicity, gender, tax bracket, and immigration status, she has overcome them all through determination and perseverance. 

But more than any of these other accomplishments, it’s the impact she’s had on people’s lives that is the most impressive. To date, Dreamers Roadmap has helped over 20,000 students find scholarships for college. “We hear from our users via social media or email on how our app has changed their lives,” she said in an interview with Forbes. “Hearing their stories reminds me that we are doing a good job and fulfilling our mission of bringing hope and financial opportunities to immigrant communities”. 

An Author Is Opening The Discussion On The Violent History In The U.S. Against Mexicans In Texas

Things That Matter

An Author Is Opening The Discussion On The Violent History In The U.S. Against Mexicans In Texas

@MonicaMnzMtz / Twitter

The history of Latinos in the U.S. dates back to before it was called the United States. Latinos have always inhabited many parts of what is now the United States of America. However, the recorded history of what happened to them while on this land is one that has often gone disputed and untold. However, in time, it is through oral history and fragments of documents and photographs that scholars have been able to complete the puzzle. Today’s experience of Latinos living in the current administration is just another addition to the story. 

Monica Muñoz Martinez, an assistant professor of American studies at Brown University, released a book last year titled “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas,” and discussed the many ways the history of Latinos in the U.S. is complex and vital to remember. 

Credit: @nbcnews / Twitter

Martinez talked about her book in a recent interview on the public radio station WBUR. The program, which featured Muñoz Martinez, began by mentioning the increase in hate crimes against Latinos and how these crimes aren’t anything new, but something this community has been experiencing for a very long time. 

“One hundred years ago, anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican rhetoric fueled an era of racial violence by law enforcement and by vigilantes. But it’s also important to remember that this kind of sentiment, this rhetoric, also shapes policy,” Muñoz Martinez said on WBUR. “So 100 years ago, it shaped anti-immigrant policy like the 1924 Immigration Act. It also shaped policies like Jim Crow-style laws to segregate communities … and targeting Mexican Americans especially. There [were] efforts to keep American citizens, Mexican Americans, from voting. But there were also forced sterilization laws that were introduced, and U.S. Border Patrol was established in 1924. Our policing practices, our institutions today have deep roots in this period of racial violence.” 

Muñoz Martinez, who received a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University, also spoke about the Porvenir massacre — an attack against Mexican-Americans that isn’t widely known but was recently made into a film

Credit: @MonicaMnzMtz / Twitter

She called the attack of innocent people a “case of state-sanctioned violence that is really profound and reminding us [not only] of the kinds of injustices that people experienced, but also the injustices that continue to remain in communities and were carried by descendants who fought the injustice and have been working for generations to remember this history.”

Muñoz Martinez notes that it’s important to continue to talk openly about the atrocities against Latinos in the U.S. in order to understand the big picture of racism in the country, but also to realize how these experiences shape the community as well. 

Credit: @MonicaMnzMtz / Twitter

“Well, it’s difficult to teach these histories on their own. But it’s also deeply disturbing because students make connections.” Muñoz Martinez said on the radio show. “It prompts conversations about police violence today, police shootings on the border by Border Patrol agents. One of the cases that I write about in my book is the shooting of Concepcion García, who was a 9-year-old girl who was studying in Texas and became ill and crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico with her mother and her aunt to recover her. She was shot by a U.S. border agent.

“So when we teach these histories, it’s important to know that these kinds of injustices have lasting consequences, not only in shaping our institutions but shaping cultures and societies,” she added. “When we think about the impact of some of the cases from 100 years ago continuing to weigh heavy on people a century later, it’s a warning to us that we must heed. And we will have to work actively as a public. If we don’t call for public accountability, these patterns of violence are going to continue, and we will be working for a long time to remedy the kinds of violence that we’re seeing.”

For more information about Muñoz Martinez’s work, you don’t need to be a student at Brown University. All you need is a library card. 

Credit: @MonicaMnzMtz / Twitter

Her book “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas” is available everywhere. You can buy it as well. You can also click here to listen to her entire interview on WBUR or follow her work at Refusing to Forget on Twitter, and her personal social media account as well

READ: A New Documentary Exposes The Massacre In Porvenir, Texas That Left 15 Mexican-Americans Dead

Harvard’s Only Latina Professor Was Denied Tenure, Sparking Student Protests and a Larger Conversation About Institutional Racism

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Harvard’s Only Latina Professor Was Denied Tenure, Sparking Student Protests and a Larger Conversation About Institutional Racism

@DivestHarvard / Twiter

Harvard has long been regarded as one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the US, if not the world. The Ivy League University has 36,012 students and 2,400 faculty members from over 150 countries. But although Harvard often boasts of the efforts they make to diversify their students, their faculty, and their curriculum, their track record has been less than stellar. That has been no clearer than in the recent turmoil surrounding the denial of their only Latina Professor, Lorgia García Peña. 

Once students learned of the University President’s decision to deny Garcia tenure, they were dismayed. Garcia’s tenure had been watched closely by the student body throughout the year, some going so far as to conduct a letter-writing campaign on her behalf earlier in the year. Once the initial disappointment at the decision faded, some students felt the need to take action. 

On Monday, roughly 50 students took to Harvard’s University Hall to protest Professor García’s tenure denial.

Although there is a Non-Discrimination and Affirmative Action clause in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Appointment Handbook, students believe that the decision to deny García tenure “exemplifies bias in the review process against professors of Ethnic Studies, whose scholarship and mentorship often put them in tension with Harvard’s administration”. 

In light of the upsetting denial of Garcia as a tenured professor, students drafted a petition with a list of demands aimed at the administration. The petition demands that the administration provides students with an explanation as to why Garcia’s tenure was denied. Students also demand a formal investigation into the alleged reasoning behind the tenure denial, with a specific focus on possible unconscious or structrual bias. Last but not least, the students demand the formal establishment of an Ethnic Studies Division–a request that the student body has been pursuing since 1972. 

For college professors, securing tenure is widely thought of as the most important accomplishment in their academic career.

According to The American Association of University Professors, becoming a tenured professor means that you “can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances”. In other words, it is a professor’s permanent job contract, which grants them greater academic freedom and protects them from being arbitrary fired. Usually, a professor is granted tenure after a probationary period of six years after which they’ve established themselves as valuable to the institution they’re working for. Usually during this time, they’re expected to publish academic research and findings to prove their value.

According to Professor Robert Anderson of Pepperdine University, tenure means that professors “are the most secure” in the unpredictable game of university politics. “[Tenured professors] are more like debt holders. If anyone bears the risk, it’s the staff who get tossed in the trash to save faculty”.

The uproar over Garcia’s tenure denial represents the larger struggle that many Latinx academics face when trying to establish themselves in higher education. 

As Latina Harvard student Mercedes Gomez tweeted on Monday, “Harvard flaunts its diversity and its admission numbers, but refuses to do the work to cultivate an environment for its students of color to feel safe and represented”. This statement rings true

As for the broader Latino community, they have not stayed silent on social media when commenting on Harvard’s questionable decision.

The fact itself that Professor Garcia is the only Latina on the faculty on the tenure track is room enough for skepticism. 

Harvard student Mercedes Gomez is especially invested in justice for Professor Garcia. 

https://twitter.com/gomezsb_/status/1201607299741212672?s=20

Let’s hope that the students’ activism spurs Harvard to re-think their decision.

This Latina academic has some chilling stories to tell about the way POC academics are structurally oppressed by academic institutions:

https://twitter.com/yarimarbonilla/status/1201689622583160832?s=20

The evidence seems to be piling up that these professors are denied tenure because their ideas don’t align with the institution’s bottom line. 

This Latina made a valid observation about how boringly predictable these tenure outcomes for WOC have become.

https://twitter.com/allisonefagan/status/1201864198403305472?s=20

The problem with institutional racism is that it’s so insidious–it’s often hard to see when it’s in front of you. And it’s even harder to call out.

This Latina is angry simply at the denial because of Garcia’s stellar resume. 

https://twitter.com/marisollebron/status/1201597626233315329?s=20

It’s frustrating to see that Ivy League institutions recruit off their claims of radical inclusivity, but their administrations don’t follow through when it comes to changing the structures of their institutions. 

The reason for Garcia’s tenure denial should be made public and then investigated. Because if this isn’t evidence of institutional racism, we don’t know what is.