Julissa Arce arrived to New York City in 2005 with a suitcase full of dreams.
With a diploma from the University of Texas under her belt and a position as an analyst at the powerful financial firm Goldman Sachs, the 33-year-old Mexican was living out the American dream.
Only that she was hiding a huge secret: although she had grown up and studied in the United States, Arce was one of the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country.
"All the time [I felt] afraid that any day someone would ask me something that I could not answer," she recalled. "The fear was enormous."
This experience and many others were revealed in her book My (Underground American) Dream (Center Street/Hachette Book Group). "I wrote this story to inspire people," Arce told People en Español. "The idea was to show the humanity, the face of immigration beyond statistics."
Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Julissa spent her childhood traveling on a tourist visa between her parents' home in San Antonio, Texas, and her grandmother's in Mexico. Her visa then expired when she was 14.
Ambitious by nature, she battled through obstacles to obtain a college degree in finance in Texas, a state that offers educational opportunities and even loans to those who lack legal immigration status.
"Being undocumented is a very lonely experience," said Arce, who used fake papers until she became a U.S. citizen in 2014 after marrying a U.S. citizen.
"I admire her determination and effort to achieve her goals. She has accomplished impressive things [and] she has never given up," says Julio Arce of his sister Julissa. "She's always been an example for me to follow."
Today, through the Ascend Educational Fund, Arce helps provide scholarships and counseling to immigrants who want to study.
Another goal in her new life as an author, activist and speaker is to "give a voice at a national level to Latinos."
This is the second story that People en Español publishes of poignant stories in the United States as part of the series American Voices. The first installment of the series was published in the September 2016 issue.
The first story featured J.W. Cortes, the Puerto Rican actor who stars on Fox's Gotham, who is using his vast life experience to advocate for veterans and people with autism.