Laura Rendon Albarracin, 19, is a freshman at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. She immigrated to the United States four years ago from Colombia and lives with her mother and 11-year-old brother in a small apartment in Queens. In late November, she was awarded a $25,000 scholarship for college, recognizing her hard work and dedication. She told Bklyner that she wants to inspire other immigrant women in this country, letting them know that they too can do anything they desire.
“Just because you immigrated, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person,” Albarracin said. “There’s just a stigma that goes around saying that immigrants are bad for the country, and it isn’t true. If we are not in our countries, it’s because something happened there, and we needed a safer place and a better place to continue our lives.”
Albarracin turns 20-years-old in January. She speaks English as if she were living here her whole life, though her accent is still heavy. She says living in NYC has been challenging; a “rollercoaster,” she called it. Her mother works all day, so she has the responsibility of taking care of her brother. She drops him off at school and picks him up. She does the household chores. Her mother doesn’t speak English, so if there’s a problem at school, Albarracin is the one who is there. And she has to focus on her own studies at the same time. Though she has to worry about a lot of things, one thing she doesn’t have to worry about is graduating with college debt— her scholarship takes care of that.
“For college, my goal was to not take out any loans,” she said, “and with the scholarship, I was able to fulfill my goal of graduating debt-free. My mom doesn’t even have to worry about paying loans or anything because the scholarship covers it.”
The Horatio Alger Association, a nonprofit that provides college scholarships to promising young people overcoming difficult circumstances, awarded two students this year the Tessler Family Specialized Scholarship – a $25,000 college scholarship given to outstanding students of the Whitney Museum Youth Insights internship program. Additionally, 2020 Horatio Alger Scholars come from households with an average annual income of $22,783 yet maintain an average GPA of 3.71. Albarracin’s teacher told her to apply, and she did. For the application, she had to write down some challenges she faced, which stemmed from her time in Colombia.
Albarracin was born and raised in Colombia. Her mother was both physically and emotionally abused for a long time by her now ex-husband, not her father, she told us. Albarracin remembers hiding from him, especially during the days when he was drunk. Though he never touched Albarracin, seeing the abuse affected her very much. When her mother got divorced, it was just the three of them. Her brother was two at the time, and her mother was working 16 hours a day.
“I had to be the mom and the housewife and had to do good in school while she was working,” Albarracin said. “In Colombia, you don’t have a lot of opportunities like you do here. It’s even more dangerous when you’re a young girl; you’re an easy target.”
Eventually, Albarracin’s applied to move to the US to live with her dad. But this was another challenge, as she didn’t know him and he didn’t know her as well. Once she came here four years ago, she had to adjust to a new country and a tiny apartment. But anything was better than living in Colombia.
In March, during the beginning of quarantine, Albarracin, her mother, and her little brother all tested positive for COVID-19. Another challenge. She’d overcome this one, too.
“We all got it at the same time. For me, it wasn’t bad, but for my mom, it was tough. We were in quarantine, and she couldn’t work,” she said. “We had to figure out ways to survive and to get food, and it was very difficult. We had to go to churches, go to many food pantries just to get food on our tables. It was very difficult.”
In September, she started college. In the beginning, all of her classes were online except English, which met once a week on Fridays. It was her favorite class.
“I really enjoyed going on Fridays. I felt like I was learning, and that was the only day that I actually learned. Even though we had our masks and distance, it was like we were there and actually paying attention,” she said. “When I’m home, I have to take care of my brother, and I have to do some chores, and I cannot focus only on schoolwork. I don’t like online Zoom classes at all.”
Albarracin is majoring in political science. Ever since she was a little girl, she was into politics. She’d follow her grandma— who was an activist and leader in her hometown—around wherever she went. She also wants to study French. Her dream job is working at the United Nations, and to do that, it is recommended that people are fluent in French, Spanish, and English. Spanish is her first language. She speaks English now. So all that is left to learn is French. Where does she see herself ten years from now?
“I definitely don’t see me in this country,” she said. “I want to travel. I see myself working for women. I have a passion for helping women finding their voice and work for their rights. I see me in a very poor country working for them.”