“BEING UNDOCUMENTED means that your future is always uncertain,” explains Gustavo Garcia-Rojas, MA ‘20. “Most DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students live in the shadows. I want to help change that.”
Garcia-Rojas arrived in the US when he was seven years old. While growing up in Petaluma, CA, he picked up a strong work ethic from his parents. He worked alongside his father in the fields as an agricultural laborer and saw his mother work long hours as a house cleaner. At a young age Garcia-Rojas knew that he wanted a different life and became determined to break the cycle of poverty by getting an education.
“An education is something that can never be taken from you,” says Garcia-Rojas.“It’s worth the struggle and the fight. There’s beauty in the struggle.”
Garcia-Rojas thanks ‘the struggle’ for leading him to find his life calling: counseling and addressing mental health.
An education is something that can never be taken from you. It’s worth the struggle and the fight.”
– Gustavo Garcia-Rojas, MA ‘20, Dual Master's of Arts in Counseling and Forensic Psychology
“The stress of being undocumented and mental health issues go hand-in-hand. People are wary of getting the mental health resources they need. I want to be a bridge to those resources and help them,” says Garcia-Rojas.
While completing his undergraduate degree at Sacramento State, he worked with other students to help an administrator, Dr. Viridiana Diaz, open the Sac State Dreamer Resource Center. The Center helps students from undocumented and mixed status families by assisting with legal services and paperwork. It also creates a supportive community. The experience opened Garcia-Rojas’ eyes to the importance of educating advocates in the community and bringing DACA students out of the shadows.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Garcia-Rojas acted on a co-worker’s recommendation to check out a graduate school with a mission of social justice and inclusive education that aligned with his own: Holy Names.
In 2017, Garcia-Rojas was accepted into the counseling and psychology program at HNU and hired as a graduate assistant (GA) for campus events and student activities. As a GA, he became a familiar and integral part of the campus community. “A benefit of going to a small college is that you get to know everyone,” says Garcia-Rojas. “And they all get to know you and your story.”
He graduated with a dual master’s degree in counseling and forensic psychology from HNU in 2020. “I’m proud that I’m DACA and got a master’s [degree],” Garcia-Rojas reflects. “Life as a DACA student has been like an ocean filled with waves that keep coming in and out trying to knock me down—yet I have been able to stay strong and balanced.”
This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of HNU Today.