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San Diego Union-Tribune

Opinion: I crossed the border for school and speak two languages. Now I have degrees in both.

By Estephanie Bencomo,


Bencomo graduated from San Diego State University with bachelor’s degrees in both English and Spanish. She lives in Tijuana.

I’m a recent graduate from San Diego State University, who received Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Spanish. I was born in Montebello but lived in Mexico most of my entire life. From an early age, I had a great interest in writing and reading. I loved admiring the illustrations in the picture books I read in kindergarten. I even made my own stories with my drawings and shared them with my classroom. I learned to read in elementary school and began discovering classic and young adult literature, which increased my love of reading and writing and influenced my decision to pursue careers in English and Spanish.

I was 16 years old when I moved to San Diego with my dad in August 2016. We were the only ones with American citizenship, and my parents wanted me to start studying here for a better future. While we were living in San Diego, my dad set himself the goal of saving enough money to rent a house in Tijuana and bring my mother and brother from farther south in Baja California, Mexico. We had to move to Tijuana after living in San Diego for four months due to the high rent. We lived in an aunt’s house for a while before moving into a small apartment, but kept the plan to bring the rest of our family in place.

Living in Tijuana, in January 2017, I started crossing the border with dad every day to go to Kearny High School. We got up at 2 a.m. by car to line up; I used to bring a blanket and a pillow to sleep on while we waited our turn. When our car broke down, we had to walk across the border and take public transportation.

High school started at 8:45 a.m., but I was always an hour or two early. Mrs. Joanne Johnson was my science teacher, and she always opened her classroom early and stayed open after school so that I could eat my breakfast and lunch and do my homework. Mr. Sean Armijo was my English teacher, and was very accessible to me. There were times when I was late for my first-period class with him, but I never received a tardy slip because he knew I was coming from far away, and sometimes was delayed at the border. The support of Mrs. JJ and Mr. Armijo was something I deeply valued in high school. I would also like to acknowledge my senior English teacher, Mr. Chris Sego, who was an inspiration because he created a safe space for me and my classmates to speak our first languages and share our cultures.

When I started my senior year, I was finally able to reunite with the rest of my family. We rent a house in Tijuana and continue to live there to this day.

When it came time to enroll in university, I feared the process. As a first-generation student, I had no idea how to enroll, which school to attend or what a community college was. I knew I wanted to study English but didn’t know where to begin.

Fortunately, I had the support of my high school counselor, who guided me through the enrollment process, as well as the counselors at San Diego Mesa College, who guided me for two years through the process of obtaining credit, enrolling in the correct classes, recommending schools for my career goals, and so on. I also remember my English professor, Jorge Villalobos, who helped me improve my formal and creative writing skills in his classes and who was a great supporter during my community college years. During this time, my sleeping hours had benefited from the schedule I chose; I could take classes in the afternoons if I had the opportunity, so I could get up a little later to cross the border.

When I transferred to San Diego State University in August 2020, I declared another major, which was Spanish.

Now, I would like to be a teacher. I have always wanted to help students who do not know how to speak English learn it while maintaining their native language skills and providing a safe space for them to share their cultures and opinions on social issues. I would also like to join the Spanish master’s program at SDSU and then pursue a doctorate. One never stops learning.

I couldn’t be happier to have finished college and received my bachelor’s degrees. I will be eternally grateful to my family, my high school teachers and my community college and SDSU professors. Their support and words of encouragement fueled my motivation to get up every day and go to school.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune .

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