Angelica Merino Monge
"My English is not perfect, and I've always felt I wasn't smart enough or good enough, or my accent was too thick to be in the classes I was taking. But my professors at HCC have always said, that's not true. They have always supported me."
By now, she has told her story many times, of fleeing the gangs in El Salvador with her mother and brother at the age of 11, of being smuggled through the Mexican desert to the U.S. border. Of struggling to learn English in American schools, saving up money for college, and living for many years in limbo, without citizenship and no clear path to attain it. For a long time, though, Angelica Merino Monge was afraid to reveal the truth. At HCC, she has learned to be an advocate for herself and others like her, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, seeking to better their lives through education. Her story is featured in a new book from UMass Press called Words in Transit: Stories of Immigrants. "I think education is as important for me as it would be for anyone, to get ahead, to be someone in life, to do what you want to do," Angelica says. "For me, it's especially important because I've had to fight for it."
Northampton (born in El Salvador; graduated from Amherst Regional High School)
President, HCC LISA Club (Latino International Students Association); intern/tutor, Planting Literacy, a project through Holyoke-Chicopee-Springfield Head Start teaching Spanish literacy to migrant workers; intern, Holyoke Public Library, translating documents and forms for a Puerto Rican history project; personal care assistant (25 hours a week); dietary aide, Center for Extended Care in Hadley (10-15 hours a week); student organizer, 2015 Amherst Out of the Shadows march.
Awards & Honors:
HCC Foundation Scholarships, 2014-2015; 2015-2016; 2016-2017; 2016 Outstanding Student Award in Political Science
Favorite Course or Teacher:
I took a Learning Community class with Mark Clinton and Raul Gutierrez ("Give me your tired, your poor: Immigration, Identity & the Struggle for Social Justice") and that really exposed me to the problems in my community as well as the problems in other communities. They taught me how to be open about who I am, where I come from, my struggles and so, through them, I was able to become more active and become an activist here at HCC and other areas, like Northampton and Amherst. We led the Out of the Shadows march and that happened with students from the Five Colleges and so my wanting to do that came out of that class with those professors. I would call both Raul and Mark my mentors.
What classes are you taking this semester?
Honors Colloquium: Punks, Freaks & Queers; Math; Public Speaking; Independent Study (I'm doing a class assessment of the Planting Literacy program at Head Start)
Why did you choose HCC?
I chose HCC because for me it was easier to get here from Amherst, where I was living. The bus route was much simpler than getting to GCC and I liked the campus much better. I felt like there were more people like me here. I really wanted to go to college and I knew I was going to have to pay for it myself, so I saved up my money working during my last year of high school.
What's been your most meaningful experience at HCC?
Through Raul, we've been working with a lot of organizations together, so I've learned a lot from that. From Planting Literacy, I've loved working with the women and I will continue to work with them as much as I can. Also, working with New England Pubilic Radio on Words in Transit. That brought a lot of good things, not only for me, but for students here at HCC.
What is your favorite thing about HCC?
I'm grateful for the professors I've had and Irma Medina (coordinator of HCC's Pathways Program). I feel like I can be open about the stuff I've been going through in my personal life as well as what's going on in school. They're really there to help me succeed. They're not there to judge me. I'm especially thankful for Raul and Mark, because they gave me the push to be open, first of all, about who I am, and then to want something better for myself, in terms of higher education.
What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome?
I think my biggest challenge was getting over the fear that I couldn't be open about my experiences as an undocumented person. Another thing is my English is not perfect, and it's not going to be as perfect as someone who was born here and someone who has always had all their education here in the U.S. I've always felt I wasn't smart enough or good enough, or my accent was too thick to be in the classes I was taking. But my professors at HCC have always said, that's not true, and they have always supported me.
What's the most important thing you've learned at HCC?
I've learned that you can really be great if you want to. I didn't think I'd achieve the level of education I've gotten because, first of all, I didn't think I was smart enough. Second, I didn't think it would be available to me because I didn't know if I'd have enough money to come back each semester. So, I've learned to really just to do it, to get it done. I want to ge able to do a lot of great things. With that, there's a lot of hard work, so I've learned to just do the work and keep learning.
Why is education important to you?
I think education is as important for me as it would be for anyone, to get ahead, to be someone in life, to do what you want to do. For me, it's especially important because I've had to fight for it, working a lot, sometimes walking to the bus stop to get to school, or sometimes defending that we are people too, and we have a right to an education too, which, with the whole being undocumented or being an immigrant, is often denied to us.
What are your plans after HCC?
I'm applying to five four-year institutions: Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Williams, and Hampshire. I'm thinking about studying immigration law and doing something with social justice, maybe a social justice or immigration lawyer.