Graduation is a time of celebration, gratitude and inspiration. There are cowbells and whistling as well as balloons and flowers. It is, undoubtedly, a joyous occasion for everyone involved. That is, unless the graduate decides to confer her academic degree while waving a Mexican flag. Then, apparently, graduation becomes a controversy.
At least that’s what the academic ceremony turned into for 22-year-old Indira Esparza.
Esparza, who graduated from Thurgood Marshall College at the University of California, San Diego, is an undocumented immigrant. Despite the barriers the more than 60 thousand undocumented students graduating from U.S. high schools each year encounter when pursuing higher education – no federal financial aid, family members being deported, the stigma that comes with the immigration status – Esparza conquered the feat, joining the class of 2015 and getting one step closer to reaching the “American Dream.”
But the response to this young woman’s success illustrates that the U.S.’s national mantra might only apply to a certain kind of person, someone unlike Esparza.
After the San Diego Union-Tribune ran a story featuring the recent grad’s accomplishments, angry letters and comments began rolling in. According to Fox News Latino, the backlash was so huge, that the newspaper published a new article about their audience’s reaction to the initial feature.
“Send her undocumented ass home to her precious Mexico,” one commenter posted. “Good luck getting the education in the country she is so proud of. Ignorant waste of a news feed.”
“So she is here illegally but gets to go to high school, college (how much at tax payers’ expense), and at graduation she chose to wave a Mexican flag,” Todd Gilbert wrote.
“If she feels so compelled to show homage to a country that failed to provide for her parents – forcing her family to relocate to a foreign country to which she demonstrates no allegiance – then it is high time for her to take what she learned at UCSD and move back to Mexico,” Chuck Briones wrote.
The responses, however, weren’t all bad.
In an online poll asking whether Esparza should have waved the Mexican flag, the largest group of respondents, 45 percent, said, “Yes, she is proud of her roots and heritage.”
Still, whether the bigots who were so offended by Esparza’s Mexican pride realize it or not, they’ve actually helped the new grad. Esparza, who co-founded an Undocumented Student Services Center at UCSD, is expecting to start graduate school this year. Her research? The educational experiences of undocumented students. How’s that for anthropological participant observation?