Seventeen-year-old Mayte Lara had no idea that her brief Twitter post would blow up on social media. The Texas high school valedictorian has gotten caught up in a national firestorm that reflects the intense political climate in this country surrounding immigration.
In case you missed the headlines, Lara was thrust into the national spotlight after she tweeted her accomplishments, adding that she is an undocumented immigrant.
“Valedictorian, 4.5GPA, full tuition paid for at UT, 13 cords/medals, nice legs, oh and I’m undocumented.”
The Austin American-Statesman education reporter Melissa Taboada reached out to Lara via email. Here’s the full text of her response to Taboada:
American-Statesman: What accomplishments have you achieved?
Besides being the valedictorian of my class, I was also the class president the last two years, National Honor Society president, and a member of the Austin Youth Council and other smaller organizations. I also got wait-listed at Harvard University, which was originally my dream school, but I don’t know if that matters.
One of the biggest hardships I’ve had to overcome was the stereotype of people like me. Many people think that people like me can’t be successful. We have all the odds against us, and I think it’s important to highlight the fact that anything is possible, regardless of your status. I’ve accomplished things that most people wouldn’t think a person with my background could have, and I’m proud of that.
I also used to be extremely shy. I remember how all throughout elementary and middle school I would never volunteer to speak in front of large groups of people, and I would turn the color of a tomato if someone even addressed me. But that changed in high school. I decided to do things that were completely out of my comfort zone, and I’m glad I did, because then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I still get incredibly nervous prior to a presentation or speech, but I absolutely love it once I’m talking.
Q: What motivated you?
Personal drive. Apart from my teachers, parents, mentors, and friends, who have been nothing but supportive throughout everything, I have been my own motivation. I’ve overcome lots of things, and I’m proud of that. And because of my past accomplishments I know that I have it in me to accomplish even more. I have goals, and I’m ready to work towards them. It’s important to be confident in your abilities, because the way I see it is, if you don’t believe in yourself, then no one else will.
Q: When did you move to the U.S., why did you go through the DACA process?
I’ve lived in Austin for the last 15 years. I went through the DACA process because it offers help to students like myself. DACA provides me with a permit to work and study here in the United States (therefore it provides a Social Security number). It doesn’t offer a full on residency, but I’m hoping that sooner or later it will open up that path so I can become a permanent resident from the country I was raised in and have lived in my whole life.
Q: Explain what you’ve gone through since your tweet went viral. What would you want to say to critics? Supporters?
I just want to clear some things up about the tweet I posted, since there seems to be a misunderstanding.
First and foremost, I can fully admit that I should’ve been more cautious about my word choice, especially in these times where everything you say gets twisted and bashed on. However, I don’t deserve the harassment I’ve been receiving.
The reason I posted that tweet was to show others that you can accomplish anything, regardless of the obstacles you have in front of you. It is a common trend on Twitter to highlight your success through a tweet like that, and I saw many other students from across the country doing the same and sharing the things they’d overcome, so I thought I’d share mine.
I, of course, didn’t think it would receive all this attention. At first it was receiving a lot of nice and supportive comments, but just like with anything, you’re going to have people who take it the wrong way and comment harsh thing. After seeing all the harassment going around, I thought it was best to just deactivate my Twitter, in attempts to ignore the harmful comments. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Twitter, I’ve realized that social media is filled with so many mean people, who always have something to say. But I just want everyone to understand that my tweet wasn’t made to mock anyone.
I just wanted to show that no matter what barriers you have in front of you, you can still succeed. And I do pay taxes, have a DACA which allows me to work and study here and I have a Social Security number. And I’m grateful for everything I’ve received. It wasn’t just handed to me; I worked for it. Most of the money I earned was through scholarships, since I can’t even fill out the FAFSA. I had to bust my butt to look for scholarships that I could apply to.
I plan on becoming a resident and then a citizen at any given opportunity. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Also, a lot of people think that because I used a Mexican flag emoji, I’m not grateful for the opportunities this country has given me. I’m extremely grateful. The only reason I used that emoji was to show that I’m proud of my heritage, and to show that we can do great things. The tweet was also made in like two seconds. It was a tweet. People shouldn’t be taking it to heart. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this country and the doors it’s opened up for me. I’m not bragging about anything, just highlighting my success. And to my supporters, thank you, thank you, thank you. All the messages and kind words honestly mean the world to me. I’m super grateful for the support I’ve received, it has definitely made things much easier to deal with.