Yazmin Garcia Rico has never allowed odds or obstacles to stand in her way. Beginning at a very young age, Yazmin developed a habit of taking smart, calculated risks that have paid off personally and professionally. Today she brings her leadership skills and educational experiences to bear in her work as Youth Director for Student Action with Farmworkers, a grantee of HIP’s Triangle for Latino Student Success initiative.
Yazmin came to the United States at age 13 as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. The transition was challenging. Schools in her community did not make it easy for undocumented students to think collegiately as community colleges in N.C. were not accepting undocumented students and state universities were charging out-of-state tuition to undocumented students. In Yazmin’s junior year of high school she visited a friend who was attending a small, private college located about thirty miles away. After the visit, she and her family discussed her desire to apply. There were many challenges. Yazmin did not qualify for financial aid from the government, she was the first one in her family to attend college in the US, and she had no idea how the college application process worked. Despite these hurdles, Yazmin figured out, largely on her own and with the support of her family, a way to make it work.
During her freshman year at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, the same friend who motivated Yazmin to attend expressed interest in starting a one-day conference on campus for Latino high school students. The Soy un Lider Conference would provide high schoolers the opportunity to sit in college classrooms, be around college students, eat in the cafeteria and take a tour of the college. Yazmin jumped at the opportunity to help, and the conference was immediately successful. Soy un Lider is still held every fall and is now coordinated by current Latino students with the support of the Multicultural Education Department at Guilford.
In addition to her work on projects like Soy un Lider, Yazmin was also a Bonner scholar. Through this program she committed to intensive and meaningful service with local community organizations and she remained actively involved in academic, extracurricular, and philanthropic activities throughout all four years of school. Yazmin’s first summer internship was “Into the Fields” at Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF). Through this internship, Yazmin was placed in a health clinic near her house, the same clinic she had frequented for her own health care. At the clinic, Yazmin disseminated healthcare information and acted as a resource to the farmworker camps around the area. The experience solidified Yazmin’s passion for, and interest in non-profit work.
When the time came, Guilford graduation day was bittersweet. Yazmin knew that despite the challenges she had expertly navigated to this point, the road ahead was still uphill. She was afraid she would have to go back to Mexico because of her undocumented status. Regardless, when friends asked how she was feeling and what she was thinking she always responded positively, “I want to do what I can right now and not worry about what might happen,” she’d say. Yazmin wanted to find a job that aligned with her values of public service and caring for her community.
Then, on June 15, 2012 President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy which allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US before their 16th birthday to apply for renewable two-year work permits and relief from deportation. Yazmin did not hesitate. “A lot of people in the community were afraid that it [applying for DACA protection] would negatively affect their family,” she said. While waiting for news of her DACA status, Yazmin heard about a National Organizer position at Student Action with Farmworkers. She wasted no time in applying, and after multiple interviews, she was selected for the position. A few days later, she received word of her Deferred Action. Yazmin’s hard work had paid off and the pieces had fallen into place.
Today, Yazmin’s role as SAF’s Youth Director involves working with 14-18 year old students in the areas of: leadership development, farmworker rights, academic success, and college prep. SAF is highly committed to education and through the Triangle for Latino Student Success initiative, SAF and Hispanics in Philanthropy collaborate with other regional partners to strengthen the educational pipeline for Latino students. SAF is a great fit for Yazmin whose goal has always been to help students prioritize education and break the cycle of Latino families working in the fields for generations by helping them learn to advocate for themselves. “The current [immigration] situation is like a band-aid,” she said, “We still have a lot of work to do. We need to work hard to make sure that the system changes.”
Yazmin is, at some point, planning to attend graduate school. She’s also runs, dances salsa, and has a lot on her plate. When asked if there was anything else she wanted to add she said, “Yes, last year in May I requested a travel permit from immigration to go to my home country for humanitarian reasons.” As a result of this, Yazmin was able to go to Mexico for the first time in almost thirteen years to see her father and brother. “It’s not an open door,” she said, “but there is still a possibility for people to go home and see their families. It’s important for people to know that this is a possibility.” Care for her family, for her peers, and for her community is a constant in Yazmin’s world. She sees things clearly and she’s doing all that she can to help Latino youth succeed.
The world could use more Yazmins.