Veronica Garcia, who only weeks before had celebrated her 16th birthday, walked out of the doctor’s office in a state of shock. Her mind reeled as she processed the news: she was pregnant.
It was the fall of 2000 and Garcia was only a high school sophomore.
She choose to keep her baby after leaving the doctor’s office that day, and went on to graduate high school as a single mother.
“I was scared, but excited at the same time,” she says.
Three years after her daughter Araseli was born, her second daughter, Priscilla, came into the world.
In 2008 she enrolled at City College. Placement tests put her in Math E1 and English 92.
Garcia is the daughter of Jose and Maria Garcia, first-generation immigrants from Guadalajara, Mexico.
A City College student equity report published in 2009 showed that among native-Spanish-speaking students only 14 percent of those placed in Math E1 and only 22 percent of those placed in English 92 will go on to complete transfer-level curriculum.
Beating the odds, Garcia would eventually meet her transfer requirements after taking five English classes.
While taking classes at City College full time, Garcia, as a single mother, also had to to work full time to support her young daughters.
“It wasn’t easy,” she says with a big smile.
In 2009, soon after she began at City College, her mother, Maria, became ill from congestive heart failure.
Maria speaks little English. Because of this language barrier, and because Garcia’s father, Jose, needed to work to keep a roof over the families’ heads, it became necessary for Garcia to get involved — dealing with medical insurance, appointments, medications, social security and disability.
Garcia rose to the challenge, claiming that her mother was receiving inadequate health care treatment and had almost died as a result.
Maria’s condition worsened and soon only a heart transplant would save her life. After tackling the red tape and bureaucracy, her family eventually got her on the transplant list.
Since her mother did not understand English, Garcia said she gave the hospital staff explicit instructions to call her directly any time there was a problem.
One day, without warning or explanation, they received a letter from the hospital saying that her mother had been dropped from the heart transplant list for “failure to comply” — in effect a death sentence.
Garcia said it wasn’t fair and the hospital had failed to give them any notice or even mention compliance up to that point.
“They were supposed to call me,” she said.
Her feeling is that if her mother was Caucasian, she would not have been taken off the list.
She continues to fight to get her mother back on the list, before it is too late.
The experience has motivated Garcia to get involved with social justice. She has joined the club Students Making a Change, becoming their student leader for City College.
At the moment she is fighting to change mandatory placement testing policies at City College to create a more lenient system where counselors are allowed to make placements.
Garcia continues to balance school, fighting for her mother’s life, raising her daughters and advocating for social justice.
Garcia plans on fighting against inequality as a career.
“I help people because I want to,” she says. “It’s my life’s purpose.”
On May 26 Garcia will graduate from City College with two associate degrees. Then she is moving on to earn her bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies at either San Francisco State University or UC Berkeley, which is currently reviewing her application.