By Jeff Kurowski
Elvia Martinez ’14 knows her parents’ favorite spot on campus. When they visit, her father, Arturo, and mother, Graciela, enjoy sitting by the Fox River. Maybe it reminds them of their hometown of Acámbaro, Guanajuato, Mexico, located on the banks of the Lerma Santiago River, also known as the Rio Lerma. Twelve years ago, the family moved from Acámbaro to Waukesha to pursue a brighter future.
“My dad was already working in the United States, but the rest of my family stayed back in Mexico because we didn’t have the means to move,” explained Martinez. “He worked in landscaping in Maryland and then, during the cold months, he worked in the fields in California. When my dad got a job in a foundry, he accumulated enough money to bring his family to this country.”
The move was challenging for Martinez, the oldest of three daughters. She didn’t speak English, so communication at school was very difficult.
“In middle school, I didn’t talk to anybody,” she said. “I was afraid of speaking English. I was afraid of making a mistake. I had a really thick accent and I didn’t want the other kids to make fun of me. I had one friend.”
She began to open up in high school and was a good student, but college didn’t enter her mind.
“My parents’ expectation wasn’t college,” she explained. “My parents’ expectations were, we are going to bring our daughters to the U.S. for a better life. They are probably going to get married and work in a factory. My parents started realizing that I was a smart girl and that I had motivation. They are very supportive.
”Martinez credits Julie DeYoung, her guidance counselor at Waukesha North High School, for directing her on a path to higher education. DeYoung not only assisted Martinez with college applications, but took her to visit St. Norbert during her senior year.
“I was actually looking at Madison,” said Martinez. “I decided to apply to St. Norbert, but I really wasn’t interested in going here. Once I saw the campus, I could picture myself here.”
Martinez added that she initially dismissed attending a private college because of the cost. DeYoung helped her explore financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
“I did not want to be a financial burden on my family,” said Martinez. “My parents were working too hard already. St. Norbert offered me great financial aid. I also received a diversity scholarship. I feel very, very grateful. I don’t think that I thanked (DeYoung) enough.”
Martinez has made a smooth transition to life at St. Norbert. Becoming a part of STAR (Students Taking Academic Responsibility), a program for first-year multicultural and/or first-generation college students, was helpful, she said.
Martinez, a pre-med major who plans to become a physician’s assistant, also points to her childhood experiences for teaching her independence and helping her adapt.
“My parents speak very little English,” she explained. “When I am home, I speak Spanish. Growing up, I had to be the translator. I had to take care of doctor’s appointments. The good thing about it was, I learned to be responsible.”
Martinez admits that she misses her mother’s cooking, but has high praise for the food on campus. In her free time, she enjoys campus activities, playing cards and spending time socializing with friends. She is a member of both the cross-country and track-and-field teams, and serves as a tutor for Multicultural Student Services and as a Eucharistic minister at Old St. Joe’s. She has previously been involved with Habitat for Humanity and taught Spanish at a local elementary school.
“I want to make the most of this experience,” she said. “I want to continue to improve in everything I do – running, in the classroom. I am never going to be able to repeat this time in my life, so I want to make the most of it.
“Do not let fear limit your choices,” she added. “Nobody from my family had gone to college. I felt like I needed to raise up my family. It’s a blessing.”
Nov. 4, 2012