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UNM grad had helping hand from Hermanitas

Lizdebeth Carrasco's parents brought her to this country when she was 5

Lizdebeth Carrasco’s parents brought her to this country when she was 5. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

FOR THE RECORD: This article incorrectly identified the academic degree earned by Lizdebeth Carrasco. Her degree, with honors, was in political science, according to the University of New Mexico.

Lizdebeth Carrasco grew up in the South Valley, the daughter of hard working but poor immigrants from Chihuahua, Mexico. The family came here without papers when she was 5 years old.

Today, at 22, Lizdebeth is a confident and capable graduate of the University of New Mexico who completed her baccalaureate requirements in four years with a 3.7 GPA.

“I started out way, way, way at the bottom,” she said in a recent interview on campus. “I was an immigrant and a Latina.”

Along the way, in addition to strong family support, Carrasco had help from Hermanitas, an offshoot of MANA de Albuquerque, the local chapter of the nation’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to helping Latinas succeed. Like the parent organization, Hermanitas – “Little Sisters” – is also focused on Latinas, but in this case middle and high school-age girls.

Hermanitas is designed to provide girls with a mentoring relationship with older members of MANA de Albuquerque and training that inspires, provides new skills and gives the youngsters a chance to expand their thinking. Hermanitas boasts a 99 percent success rate, measured primarily by completing high school. MANA also takes credit for an extremely low teenage pregnancy rate.

Hermanitas provides workshops on such topics as communication, consumerism, media influence, cyber predators, leadership, self image, teen pregnancy, physical exercise, and time and money management. It also offers field trips to conferences, the Round House and colleges and universities. Members are encouraged to volunteer for community activities.

MANA also has an active scholarship program, which over the past several years has awarded $90,000 to deserving girls.

Carrasco participated in Hermanitas all through high school, and credits the organization with helping her excel and make wise choices. It also inspired confidence and taught her that she is as competent as any other human being, with all the rights anyone could ask for. There was no reason to hide in a shell.

Still, growing up in the South Valley was tough, and poverty and immigration issues were real, aspects of her life she could not ignore. It wasn’t so very long ago, she recalled, that she was constantly looking over her shoulder, leery of drawing any attention to herself.

In a word, she was afraid.

Then, three years ago, the Obama administration announced that undocumented people who were brought to this country as children and meet specific guidelines could request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. If approved, they could get authorization to work. Thanks to that executive order, Carrasco and other young people like her found an opportunity to live full and open lives in the only country they know.

“I came out of the shadows,” the UNM alumna said. “I was no longer afraid. Now I know that, even as an undocumented Latina, there is a lot I can do.”

The order also allowed Carrasco to become a Fred Harris Congressional intern with Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and take a more active role in community groups, such as the Southwest Organizing Project in Albuquerque.

Obama’s order allowed her to come out of the shadows, but she was already well primed by Hermanitas.

Carrasco first heard of Hermanitas soon after becoming a South Valley Academy student. She said the organization provided a tremendous amount of support, moral and academic. “They taught us to be better students, to focus on our studies, but also to look after ourselves. I feel that Hermanitas gave me empowerment and taught me to give back to my community.”

Although she always knew she would go to college, she doubted how successful she would be. When she graduated last week, it was cum laude with a degree in architecture and design.

“I worked my butt off,” she said.

Now she plans to take a year off, get more involved in community organizations, then go to law school – hopefully at UNM. “This is home. This is where I grew up. It’s where my family lives,” she said.

She has already been working for two years as a legal assistant at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.