Director of EOPS/CARES & CalWORKs
"There is nothing that can stop you from accomplishing your dreams. When no one else believes in you, believe in yourself, and use other’s doubts as the catalyst for your success. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and to everyone you come across. You never know what others are going through and the impact that you can have on someone's day or life by simply acknowledging them."
Diego Espinoza speaks to students at an event on campus.
Immigration to Salinas, California
I came to this country from my native Mexico during my middle school years, and upon arriving, my family settled in Salinas.
Like many newcomers, my family and I experienced many challenges including homelessness, hunger, gang influences, and an overall identity crisis.
Nevertheless, my mom used to tell me that “the one thing that no one can take away from you is your education”, and when I did not have anything and we were couch surfing and without a place to shower, I held on to this saying for dear life.
Reading as an Outlet to Change
Books and reading have always been the outlet in my life. I remember looking at my middle school library and looking for Spanish books to read because at that point I did not speak or read in English. Little by little I started being more confident in my reading capabilities, and one of the books that changed my life was The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez.
As I was reading the book, I could not help but be in awe at the similarities between my life and Panchito's, the protagonist of the book. It was through Francisco Jimenez that I first learned about a university. In his following book, Reaching Out, Francisco spoke about his experience at Santa Clara University.
High school came and with it a lot of different experiences. It was during high school that I transitioned from ELD to mainstream English. Let me tell you, that transition was tough. Unlike my ELD classes, no one spoke Spanish, and everything seemed much harder. This was the first time I experienced “Imposter Syndrome”.
College was not introduced to us until our junior year and by that time, it was hard for anyone to catch up and make up classes. To my good fortune, at the end of my junior year I met a recruiter from our local university, Cal State Monterey Bay (CSUMB), and he was the first person to introduce me to the idea of attending a four-year university. With his help and motivation from my English teacher, I was admitted to CSUMB.
Obstacles and Success in College
I wish I could tell you that the transition to college was smooth, but unfortunately that was not the case. Once again, I felt that I did not belong. I was more focused on my retail job than in my classes and as a result I was placed on academic probation after my first year.
Not going to lie, I did not see a point in continuing my education. At the end of that first year and on the brink of dropping out, I remember my mom’s “dicho” of the importance of education.
As I was completing my appeal letter begging the university not to dismiss me, I made a promise to myself that I was going to do anything I could to receive my bachelor's degree.
Diego Espinoza at an outdoor event welcoming students on campus.
As the summer progressed, I decided to retire from retail (lol) and applied for an on-campus job. I secured a position as a peer mentor in the CAMP Program, a program that supports migrant students like myself, and that was the best decision I could make. Through on-campus jobs, I learned so much about student services and how much staff care about students who they often do not even know.
The next few years went by so fast. I began getting good grades, enjoying my classes, and being involved in campus life. I joined clubs, studied abroad in Puerto Rico/Dominican Republic, and was involved in research projects with my faculty advisor. I graduated in 2015 with honors and with my family present in the stands. Upon graduation I knew I wanted to remain in higher education.
I accepted a full-time job with CSUMB while applying for graduate school. Although there were several Educational Leadership programs, I had my eyes set on Santa Clara University. I wanted to be in the shoes of Francisco Jimenez and experience for myself the university that introduced me to higher education. I was admitted in 2016 and graduated with my master’s in the summer of 2018. I did not stop there; just this year I am beginning my second year in a doctoral program at San Diego State University.
My Advice to Students
As I wrap up my story, I want to let you know that If I was able to accomplish my goals, so can you! There is nothing that can stop you from accomplishing your dreams. When no one else believes in you, believe in yourself, and use other’s doubts as the catalyst for your success.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself and to everyone you come across. You never know what others are going through and the impact that you can have on someone's day or life by simply acknowledging them.
There will be many challenges along the way, some which may seem impossible to overcome, but hold on to your “Ganas” or your willingness to be the best version of yourself. When you feel like you just cannot keep going, remember that at Mission College you have a community of people that care about your well-being and your goals.
Diego at an event on campus with three colleagues. He is on the far right.