Anny Lopez Urquizo '23 remembers her friends being terrified of getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle or swallowed up by quicksand. Those fears seemed far-fetched, but Anny's biggest fear was a legitimate, 24/7 threat. What if the wrong person found out her secret? 

Anny was five years old and gleefully bouncing around in the backseat of the family car. A police officer happened to notice there was a child not strapped into a car seat and pulled Anny's mother over. For a few paralyzing minutes, it felt like they were sinking in quicksand. 

Anny was born in Quito, Ecuador. Her dad was a lawyer and her mom was raising three kids: Anny and her two older brothers. One day, when Anny was just about a year old, her dad broke the news that he would be leaving (fleeing) the following day to the United States. More than 20 years later, the details of why aren't important, but Anny's dad was in trouble, and staying in Ecuador was simply too risky. So, he left for the U.S. while the rest of the family stayed behind. 

"There was a picture in our living room of a man holding a baby. I knew the man was my dad and that I was the baby, but he was gone. Honestly, I thought he was dead. I latched onto uncles or any male figure in my life to try to fill what was missing. Then, one day, my mom said, 'We're going to see your dad.'"

Anny's dad had moved to New Jersey and then to Massachusetts, and the former attorney had gotten work as a dishwasher, a housekeeper, and a janitor. He was making his way in a new country, learning the language, and sending money back home to his family. When Anny was five, the family secured travel visas to visit. When the visas expired, they stayed.

"We were in the country illegally. I was terrified of ICE and the prospect of deportation. I became really scared when I was eight. That was the height of my self-awareness of the situation."

But it was when Anny was five, and brand new to the country, that her mom was pulled over. Fortunately, the police officer was understanding of the woman who spoke little English and didn't have a driver's license. They were let go with a warning. 

There were other close calls, and when Anny was seven she first became aware of the racist comments. She didn't feel like she fit in, and maybe that's why she didn't try much in school. But when she was in the 7th grade, she transferred out of public school and into a college-prep charter school. Her grades improved, and by her senior year of high school, college was a real option. Anny had a good friend who had an older sister at Siena. The sister was always bragging about her college experience, so Anny announced her own intentions to attend Siena. However, there was another problem.

"My parents didn't realize they would have to pay for college. They made some bad assumptions, probably from what they saw on TV or in the movies. They just couldn't afford to send me to Siena. My only choice was community college or to commute to Siena from Massachusetts. I decided to commute."

There was a guidance counselor who told Anny that it would never work. Plus, a high school graduation cap adorned with her tardy slips would suggest time management is not a strength for Anny. But, she remembered all of the speeches her father gave her growing up. He told her, "As immigrants, people prey on our downfall. We have to prove ourselves."

"My mom would come home crying from the horrible racism she faced at work. My dad would get up at 5:30 and work three jobs and come home at midnight. I don't discredit community colleges, but I know the environment. I knew that it would be Siena that would help me realize my dreams."

When Anny was 12, she became a permanent resident and no longer faced possible deportation. Her green card wouldn't have expired until 2024, but Anny decided last year that she wanted to become a U.S. citizen. She liked the idea of gaining her citizenship and graduating from college and getting a job all in the same year. "Success: back-to-back-to-back." On February 14 of this year, after nearly hyperventilating in the waiting room, she aced her citizenship exam. On April 4, she took the oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony.

"I can tell you that the days leading up to it, everybody was excited but me. I have a hard time feeling happy. I was nervous. And on that day, as I was sitting by myself, and they played a video of President Biden talking about being an American citizen, and I got so overwhelmed. I realized what it means for my family. The American Dream was complete. Not my dream, but my parents' dream. To see them work every day like dogs and face discrimination, this was their moment. My dad loves this country so much. He made that moment happen for me."

Anny got involved with SEED (Siena Enhanced Educational Development) as a freshman and credits the program for her academic success. Anny graduates in May and then starts her full-time job as a court advocate for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, where she'll help victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault in her hometown. 

"I have been a fan of Anny’s since the first day of her freshman year and I immediately decided to hire her as a SEED Student Mentor after her first year. She is a first generation college student who has worked 30 hours per week and commuted over an hour to campus every day for the past four years. Rather than complain about how difficult it must be to balance so many different responsibilities, she uses her experiences to serve as a compassionate and inspiring mentor for younger students in the SEED Program. Anny holds a special place in my heart and is definitely one of my heroes." 

Holly Cheverton, Director of the Siena Educational Enhanced Development (SEED ) Program