It’s Monday, the start of a fresh school week and in walks Jessica Cruz, backpack in tow. She takes her seat and waits for her professor to begin class. During peer group discussions, Jessica breaks out of her quiet manner and gives her input on the day’s topics. Outside of group discussions in her English course, one wouldn’t know much about Jessica at first glance, like her love for horses, her passion for literature and reading, or even her daily struggle with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.
When class is over, Cruz quietly picks up her belongings and walks down the busy hallway. She enters her next classroom, takes her seat and waits for the professor to start class, a weekly Monday and Wednesday routine she’s become accustomed to during her first semester at A&M-San Antonio as a first-generation college student.
How did she get here? The story begins in Mexico, 17 years ago.
The ultimate dream for the father of Jessica Cruz was for his daughters to receive the best education possible and to see them graduate from high school, then college. At the age of 3, Cruz and her family left Mexico, hoping and anticipating to make a better life in the United States.
A Move Towards Hope
In the winter of 1993, after the three years it took to complete all the legal requirements, Jessica was able to leave her home in Mexico and move with her family to San Antonio, Texas. Her father hoped that by setting an example for his daughters, they would eventually learn the strengths required to provide for themselves.
Once completely in their new home in Texas, Jessica’s father went straight to work with an electrical company to provide for his family and their new life ahead. Tragically, on June 14, 1993, only four months after immigrating, Jessica’s father suffered an accident while at work. Despite all medical efforts in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, his injuries were too extensive, and he died.
Cruz’s mother thought about why her husband moved them to America. She thought about all that he sacrificed to make sure his daughters would be well educated. She decided to stay in their new home and help her daughters fulfill their father’s dream.
Cruz, along with her sister and mother, spoke no English but did their best to keep a roof over their heads and adapt to the American culture and language. Jessica began learning English when she started school.
Finding Role Models
“My teachers were like my role models,” Cruz said. “Ever since I was a young girl, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be just like them.”
After finishing grade school, she continued on with her father’s dream and enrolled at TAMU-SA, where she’s now a junior majoring in English.
“I learned to love literature. Reading is my passion and it lets you travel to many different places from the comfort of your sofa. Writing to me is the easiest way I can express myself and my feelings,” Cruz said. “That is when I decided on my major because what’s better than combining my two passions of teaching and literature?”
Although school was enjoyable, other matters complicated her success. In December 2003, Cruz noticed something wasn’t quite right with her health. She would come home from school and take long naps, then wake up only long enough to eat dinner, do her homework and go back to sleep. She was at a cousin’s wedding in Mexico when her joints started hurting, then turned into unbearable pain.
Pain, Then a Diagnosis
After about a year of painful flare-ups, Jessica’s mother took her to several different doctors and in March 2004, when Jessica was 14 years old, they diagnosed her with Lupus, a disease affecting 1.5 million Americans. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, the disease affects the immune system which causes the body to create autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. The result is inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
Cruz’s disease causes her extreme fatigue at times. She says sometimes her fingers and hands swell up making it painful and difficult to write. Doctors have decided to put her on chemotherapy treatments, which means intravenous treatment once a month. Thankfully, there are times of remission when the disease is under control, a state she held onto until a few months ago.
This semester Cruz has juggled school and chemotherapy treatments and has somehow managed to keep her grades up. She credits her family for helping her support system for helping her endure.
Connections Between Family and Education
“The greatest support I get is from the three women that have been by my side all my life, that is my mom, my sister, and my grandma,” Cruz said.
Cruz says it’s her mother who pushes her and gives her words of wisdom. Her sister, who has also started school to become a nurse, is now her study buddy and stays up with her late at night to finish homework. And It is her grandmother always tells her how proud she is of her and gives her big hugs — the best kind of medicine.
Despite all that she has to deal with on a daily basis, Cruz is not a quitter. She doesn’t make excuses. One day Jessica Cruz hopes to be a high school English teacher. A father’s dream and a family’s support have given Cruz education, independence and strength.