by Kathleen Schaefer

A family’s support, both financial and emotional, helps teenagers achieve their goals. But after moving from Mexico to the U.S., senior Liliana Muñoz learned to rely on herself.
“I’ve gone through a lot of trouble with my family,” said Muñoz. “None of them really care about my future. But I don’t pay attention to what they say. I can do what I want with my life.”
Muñoz was born in Mexico, where she spent the majority of her life. While in Mexico, she was not able live with her parents.
“I didn’t grow up with my mom,” said Muñoz. “She left me when I was three years old. I also don’t know my father. I don’t even know his name.”
Instead, Muñoz lived with her grandparents.
“My grandparents are really sweet,” said Muñoz. “My grandmother always took care of me, and she was there when I was sick or had problems. I miss my family in Mexico.”
Three years ago, when Muñoz was 16, she moved to the U.S. She came alone.
“My mom lived in the U.S., and she had me come here,” said Muñoz. “She told me I would have a better life.”
Upon arriving in the U.S., Muñoz met her mother for the first time since she was three.
“I thought she would be sweet to me when I saw her again, but she wasn’t. Now I see her once a week on Mondays.”
Even though she misses the people she left in Mexico, Muñoz appreciates one aspect of the U.S.
“Here I have many opportunities for education,” said Muñoz. “In Mexico it is different. If you have money, you can study, but if you don’t, you can’t. My family was really poor.”
Muñoz balances her studies with her job.
“I work at McDonalds for five hours a day, four days a week,” said Muñoz. “I use the money to buy clothes and shoes. I pay for everything I have. I’ve had to do this for the last three years. My mom never buys me anything.”
While her job allows her to afford necessities, it sometimes makes schoolwork difficult to complete.
“I only have about an hour to study on days that I work,” said Muñoz. “I just want to come home and sleep.”
After moving to the U.S., Muñoz found another barrier: language.
“When I came here people would talk and I wouldn’t be able to understand them,” said Muñoz. “It was hard for me. I’d always cry when I didn’t understand anything.”
Taking classes in English helped Muñoz learn the new language. As with other obstacles in her life, her persistence allowed her to overcome her difficulties.
“I tried to learn three words in English every day,” said Muñoz, “and that really helped me. I can understand people now.”
History teacher Hilda Castillo-Abate sees Muñoz as an exceptional student.
“She is very hardworking and goes above and beyond to complete her work,” said Castillo-Abate. “It hasn’t been easy for her by any means. Her teachers are her strongest support.”
Although Muñoz frequently must depend on herself for motivation, others around her sometimes offer their help.
“I’m really thankful for my teachers,” said Muñoz. “They always give me advice and tell me to stay strong. They say not to let anyone hurt me and that I can be someone in life.”
Muñoz knows when to accept advice from people and when to listen to herself.
“My mom always asked me why I was studying because I wasn’t going to be anyone. She never trusts me,” said Muñoz. “But I made myself study. I trust myself.”
Muñoz’s teachers notice her dedication and determination.
“She’s very goal-orientated and knows what she needs to do,” said Castillo-Abate. “I can’t say enough nice things about her.”
After graduating high school, Muñoz plans to attend Santa Rosa Junior College with the hope of becoming a nurse.
“College will be difficult,” said Muñoz. “It’s not the same as high school. There are stricter teachers and they are not going to babysit us.”
Nevertheless, Muñoz has aspirations for the future and she does not let difficulties keep her from achieving her goals.
“I want to be someone in life,” said Muñoz. “I want to be successful. I can’t believe I’m graduating this year.”