Student Spotlight: My Immigration Experience

Name: Pamela Moreno Soto
Undergrad: Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU)
Hometown: Texhoma, Oklahoma
Fun Fact: I’ve read over 1,000 books

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I remember back in 2005, there was a huge Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid 40 minutes away from my hometown. Many families were split, and children came home from school to missing parents because they had been deported during work. That day, my parents came home early from work and pulled us out of school. We went home, closed the blinds to our house, and sat in silence. As night fell, my parents didn’t allow us to turn on any lights. We sat in the living room most of the night as I eventually fell asleep to the sound of my mother praying the rosary, fervently praying that immigration agents wouldn’t knock on our door and tear our family apart. A haunting thought plagued my brain: “this is it…we are getting deported.”

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Many descriptors could be used for me: woman, daughter, wife, sister, aunt, student physical therapist, but most importantly IMMIGRANT. My family and I immigrated from Mexico to the United States in June of 2002. I was 12 years old when we made the move. My family had every intention of going back to Mexico, but 15 years later, it never happened. So, how did that young, innocent, trusting girl make it here? It is a long story of a long journey, but I’ll give you the Cliff notes.

It began with Mrs. Davis, my 7th grade English teacher. I spent 4 hours with her every day, with the last hour consisting of her pointing to pictures in a magazine and making me repeat the words. She would make me come up with sentences using the word I just learned. To take on such a taxing task, she was a saint.

I love books, and that love was the driving force for me to learn English. I learned to read English by carrying a “book of the week,” an English to Spanish translation book, and a plain Spanish dictionary everywhere I went. For a typical 12 year old, I should have been simply expanding my native vocabulary, not learning another language on top of that. My journey continued with Mrs. Dana Martin, my junior high school counselor. She said 4 magical words that continue to motivate me to this day: “I believe in you.” I graduated from high school with honors, 6 years after moving to the U.S.

I went on to college with academic scholarships in the fall of 2008, where I met two very important people in my life, Sue Ball and Daniel Soto. Sue Ball was my academic advisor and someone that invested so much time and love into my success that I don’t know where to begin to thank her. She put me onto the path I am on today. I am here because she, along with the Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) faculty, took time to prepare me for Regis. At SWOSU, I also met Daniel Soto, my husband. Once I married Daniel, I was able to apply for a green card. Today, I hold a U.S. citizenship. The process took 4 years, cost us over $5,000, and took many appointments with immigration agencies. The first time I had to go to an appointment to give my fingerprints, I felt nauseous thinking about the possibility of being deported. At a different meeting, my husband and I had to meet with an immigration agent to prove we had not married only to obtain a green card. At this meeting, I also felt nervous and ill. Altogether, I had 6 appointments with immigration offices up to the day I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

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After graduating from SWOSU in May of 2012 with a degree in Biological Sciences, I took time off. After 3 years of time off, I decided it was time to get going with my long-term plan of going to graduate school. I got accepted into Regis’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program in February of 2016. That day, I fell to my knees and cried. This Mexican girl with English as her second language, who even learned English by watching Harry Potter movies, who was not supposed to graduate high school, nonetheless college, who lived in the shadows with paralyzing fear for a decade, who was the first of her family to graduate from a university in the U.S., is going to be a DOCTOR OF PHYSICAL THERAPY.

Like me, there are millions of children and young adults who were brought to the United States for the sole purpose of giving us a chance at better horizons. My parents tried to apply for green cards as soon as they realized they loved this country and our opportunities here were better, but we had to live undocumented for 10 years in the U.S. before our immigration statuses changed. I have been very fortunate to have many people invest so much time and energy into my success, and a mere “thank you” does not begin to cover my gratitude for them. My story represents one story of success for a young, driven, positively influenced, inspired, and committed immigrant and I hope to hear and read about more stories from student immigrants in the future.

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I leave you with the words of my favorite composer/song-writer:

“My name is Pamela Moreno Soto,
And there’s million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait.
Another immigrant comin’ up from the bottom.”

– Lin-Manuel Miranda, taken from Alexander Hamilton, from Alexander Hamilton: An American Musical

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