From a young age, César Vargas‘ mother Teresa Galindo, 72, taught him that hard work pays off. “She was always selling food on the street, babysitting and recycling bottles,” he recalls of his single mother raising him and his four siblings in New York City. “She would collect cans and she would take us to the supermarkets to sell them. We would be embarrassed that our friends would see us, but she would do that every day. She would always say: ‘Go to school. School is your future’.”
He still remembers the day that his mother picked him and his siblings up from his elementary school in his native Puebla, Mexico. Instead of going home that day, they went to the local church and he saw his mother plummet before the altar, asking God for protection. That day the family would cross the border in Tijuana in search of a better life on American soil. The desperation from not having the means to sustain her kids after Cesar’s dad passed away from diabetes, made her take the unthinkable risk. With only a plastic bag in hand (which contained a little money and her children’s birth and school records), Galindo ran across the border with her kids at night, guided by a ‘Coyote’ or smuggler. “She had small kids and anything could happen”, Vargas recalls. “They could rape her, kill her, steal her children. She is my hero for everything she endured”.
The struggle paid off. Vargas made his mother proud by becoming the first lawyer in the family. In February of 2016, after battling for almost five years – during which he even filed a lawsuit to obtain his attorney’s license to practice his profession after graduating college and passing the New York bar exam – Vargas obtained his license, becoming the first undocumented person to carry one in the state. “When I saw my diploma,” reflects Vargas, “I realized I was living the American dream.”
The lawyer now works with community organizations in Staten Island County in New York to protect immigrant rights and help them become legalized. “I was one of those children that came [to the United States] crossing the border,” highlights Vargas, who is still undocumented. He also represents younger children who entered the United States illegally fleeing from the violence in Central America. “Now I’m going to be the lawyer who represents them so they can achieve their dreams.”