Student Bios: 2022-2023

Meet our team!
Ailyn Alicea

Ailyn is a fourth year Public Health major with a concentration in Health Policy and Management

I am a first-generation college student at UCSD. I grew up in the border town of El Centro, and as a child I would cross the border of Mexicali every day to get to school. Throughout my life, I didn’t know being low-income, and a child of immigrants was something that can significantly impact one’s course of life in terms of attaining higher education, at least until I got to UCSD. Here I learned that I beat the odds and came to the conclusion that the struggles I faced were rooted in being a first-generation Mexican-American.  As a public health major, I have focused on immigrant health, specifically how border regions often face various health disparities due to the social determinants of health. In MMFRP, I aim to use my cultural background and my public health background to understand immigration at a broader level. 

Aliyah Maya Annis

Aliyah is a third-year Political Science major with a concentration in Public Law. 

I am a second-generation queer Latinx and first-gen college student from Salinas, California. With my mother being an immigrant from Oaxaca and me being born and raised in an immigrant community, I’ve consistently experienced and witnessed the dehumanization of immigrant families under the racialized, gendered, and socialized U.S. immigration system as well as the fears and byproducts such a system produces within said communities. I view such experiences as undeniable evidence of the importance of rejecting savior-based activism and fostering direct communal voice and action. Therefore, I am honored to participate in a research model that builds upon immigrant voices, and I am confident it will provide me with opportunities to gain knowledge and tools to equip myself to continue advocacy within law school and beyond. I hope to utilize my trauma-informed experience working with criminal and immigration cases within a community model framework as well as my experience in social work to contribute to the MMFRP.

Erick Calderón

Erick is a 1st-year Master’s student in the Latin American Studies program.

The first encounter my family had with immigration was when my grandfather came to the US as a Bracero in the early 1960s. After the program ended he persuaded his family that the future was up north. His family followed. My parents crossed the border and eventually met in Santa Ana, CA where my siblings and I were born. We moved to Puerto Rico thereafter, where we lived until my father was detained by ICE. Those were uncertain times. Recently, my wife and I had to go through the immigration process when we got married because my wife had overstayed her tourist visa. It was a long year of waiting, crying, and struggling, but we managed to pull through. Immigration has been a fundamental part of my life; it has shaped me into what I am today. I am excited to use my experience in the MMFRP and to learn from my colleagues as well as we embark on this journey together. 

Nayeli Cazares

Nayely is a 3rd year Global Health major with a minor in Human Rights and Migration

I grew up in Pico Rivera, 30 minutes away from Downtown Los Angeles. I just transferred to UCSD from East Los Angeles Community College so I am proud to say, I am a first-generation college transfer student. My parents immigrated to the US from Yurirra, Guanajuato, Mexico. I am the youngest of three. I am very close with my sisters and parents. I am very grateful and blessed to have learned the value of hard work, determination, and humility that my parents instilled in us while growing up. In community college, I was able to finally embrace my culture and roots. For the longest time, I was ashamed of being Mexican because of how certain people would view Latinos/Mexicans. My parents did not really educate us either about our culture as much. Perhaps the trauma/microaggressions they went through when assimilating here in the US. But, once I took a Chicano Studies class in community college I was able to understand why I felt this way. I am now continuously diving into educating myself about my culture/roots, understanding the history of Mexico/Latinos, and now I am constantly talking with my parents more about their experiences when crossing the border and their lives in Mexico prior to leaving. I am very proud to say I am Mexican/Latina and a daughter of Mexican immigrants and to fully embrace the beauty of my culture. I am very grateful for this opportunity as it will educate me and better understand issues/policies of migration and further strengthen my research skills.

Nicole Cerón López

Nicole is a 4th-year transfer student majoring in International Studies – Sociology with a regional focus on Latin America and minoring in Human Rights and Migration. 

Immigration is an essential component on both sides of my family. My dad’s side left their small farm town in Cauca, Colombia because guerrilla groups controlled the area and moved to the urban city of Cali, Valle del Cauca.  My mom’s side left rural Huila, Colombia because my great-grandfather was persecuted for his political views, ending up in Cali as well. Further on, my parents decided to immigrate from Cali to San Diego, where our story carried transnationally. Growing up my relationship with immigration was always related to fear, fear that my parents could’ve been picked up at any point, and fear of those who enforced the law. However, understanding my parent’s story I realized that it takes more than courage to take on the journey of picking up your things and leaving. It is empowering to listen to these stories and I am more than privileged to take part in the MMFRP. The US-Mexico border is significant in my parent’s story and being able to work there through the MMFRP is something unexplainable. Moreover, I am excited about this opportunity and the insight I’ll gain to further help me with my career goals.

Robert Contreras

Robert is a 3rd year Global South Studies major.

I am a first-gen Xicano from South Central LA.

Bryan Delgado

Bryan is a fourth-year Marine Biology major with a minor in Environmental Systems.

I’m a first-generation Mexican student from Santa Ana, California. When I was young, I was able to see how my Latinx community could be so united like a family, where everyone is trying to help each other and look out for any opportunities to work or support their family. When moving to Tulare, right in between Fresno and Bakersfield, I was able to see how although it is a different environment the Latinx community was still united and migrant workers are important to our society and our lives. I was always interested in my heritage and the significance of the traditions that have been passed through culture. As a proud Mexican American, I never understood how migrant workers would be mistreated for all the work they would put in. I have personally seen the struggles that migrant workers go through to continue to survive and thrive in the United States not just for themselves but for their families so that their children can have a better education and more secure jobs. As the oldest son of a migrant worker, I know that immigrant parents face struggles with a smile to make sure we can have a better future. I want to help bring awareness about how important they are to the United States and the way the media portrays them is false and inhumane. I’m excited to be part of the MMFRP to see how I can make a change in my community and for the people around me.

Jessica Estrada

Jessica is a 4th-year Political Science/Data Analytics major.

I am proud to be a first-generation student at UCSD. I was born in San Diego, but I lived in Tijuana, Mexico until I was 8 years old. Before moving back to San Diego, I would cross the border every day at 4am just to attend school in the U.S. My parents have sacrificed so much for me to get an education, and I am forever grateful for everything they have done. As migrants, my family and I have faced financial hardships. However, my parents’ sacrifices opened up opportunities that helped me get to where I am today.

It’s a very unique experience to grow up along the San Diego-Tijuana border. I feel very fortunate to get to experience two different cultures. My community means a lot to me, which is why I’m excited to be a part of MMFRP. I look forward to helping migrants however I can, as well as making a positive impact in my community.

Kathryn Garcia

Kathryn is a 1st-year Master’s student in Latin American Studies.

I grew up nearly 15 minutes from the US-Mexico Border in San Diego, California, and this has shaped my passion for social justice in the border region. My great grandparents immigrated from Mexico to the United States and I am proud to be a Chicana activist and researcher. I previously participated in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates on Immigration and Border Communities in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, conducted fieldwork with the Undocumented Migration Project in Arivaca and Nogales, and I studied abroad at Universidad de Las Américas Puebla during my undergraduate career. I am enthusiastic to continue my community-based research with the Mexican Migration Field Research Program in Tijuana, Mexico.

Vanessa Garcia

Vanessa is a fourth-year Sociology major with a concentration in Social Inequalities and a double minor in Health Care-Social Issues and Human Rights and Migration.

I am a proud first-generation daughter of two Salvadoran immigrants escaping violence from the US-funded civil war in their home country. I was born and raised in Pacoima, a small neighborhood in Los Angeles that has a predominantly Latinx community and a high percentage of immigrants. Growing up and witnessing all the inequalities my community had and continues to face, I have always been passionate about human rights and am constantly striving to become a better advocate for my family and community. I also strive to improve Latinx inclusion at UCSD because as the oldest daughter in my family, I believe it is my responsibility to do so for my younger siblings who have expressed their goals of following in my footsteps and attending UCSD.

Amy Garcia-Medina

Amy is a third-year Sociology major with a Human Developmental Science Minor.

I am a first-generation Latina college student from La Puente, California. I am the youngest daughter of immigrant parents from Veracruz, Mexico. Growing up I heard a lot of stories about their migration and how difficult it was in the beginning for them. I learned to value what I have and never give up on my goals because my parents would always tell me “Échale ganas!” I love my Mexican roots and culture and I want it to be something that is celebrated. I joined the MMFRP because of my interest in social justice and because I want to help people who have similar stories to my parents, experiencing the unfair migration policies that exist today that hold these people back from living a better life. I want to make my parents and myself proud with the work with immigrant families in this program. 

Diego Gonzalez Villamán

Diego is a fourth-year Muir College student majoring in Anthropology: Climate Change and Human Solutions

I was born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico where I migrated when I was around 8 years old. I am a first-generation immigrant and college student. I have gotten many opportunities that people of my race don’t have, as my father had a work visa and it was a simple matter for me as a child to receive a visa and later a green card. I grew up having family who could only dream of the chance to get the same treatment in the system, but most of them failed before even getting a visa. I joined MMFRP to be part of the change I want to see and hopefully, one day have the generation after me not have these same worries.

Daniela Hernandez

Daniela is a second-year Sociology major with a double minor in Psychology and Human rights and migration.

I’m a first-generation Latinx student at UCSD. As a daughter of immigrant parents I’m passionate about being able to help the immigrant, migrant, and refugee community. Although I faced struggles growing up I was privileged to be able to freely go on a walk on any given day and enjoy the fresh breeze and the view of an endless desert landscape that reminds me of the possibilities awaiting me. I recognize this is something that not all individuals are granted as they live in constant fear, for this reason, I want to extend a helping hand to the many vulnerable individuals who are facing extreme adversity. I’m looking forward to joining the MMFRP to help these communities find strength in moments of struggle.

Elizabeth Jimenez-Ramirez

Elizabeth is a 3rd-year Sociology major with a concentration in Law & Society, and a minor in Business Economics.

I am a first-generation Mexican American college student. I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, in my community of Boyle Heights. I was brought up by immigrant parents who migrated from Mexico and have given me the opportunity to pursue higher education. I have seen the struggles that my parents have faced as immigrants as well as others in my community. I continue to learn about the ongoing struggles of immigrants. Which is why I want to take an active role in advocating for migrant and refugee protection. That I hope to do through this research program and lead to positive and lasting impacts for these communities.

Andrea Kvietok Dueñas

Andrea is a 1st-year Ph.D. student in the Sociology Department. 

Migration constitutes a key aspect of my family history. My Slovak and Peruvian immigrant grandparents engaged in international and rural-urban migration to acquire better livelihoods for their children. My parents and sister embarked on regional and transnational crossings in their pursuit of higher education. These migratory flows influenced the ways in which I was raised —doing so in a Spanish-English bilingual home in Lima, Peru— and shaped my academic interests. Since my undergraduate career, a recurrent thread in my research has centered on understanding migration flows to and from the Global South at the intersection of individuals’ identities, transnational networks, and governance regimes. Before starting my Ph.D., I took part in several interdisciplinary projects on the multilayered effects of forced displacement on the Venezuelan migrant and refugee population in Peru. Participating in MMFRP will give me the opportunity to gain more insight into the intra- and extra-regional migration dynamics at the US-Mexico border, and further a personal and academic goal of mine: producing community-based research that has an impact on policy-making.

Ashly Nicole Leos

Ashly is a 4th-year Biochemistry/Chemistry, and Latin American Studies double major.

I am a first-generation college student. I grew up in Mexico, more specifically in Tijuana, Baja California, and immigrated to the United States when I was 13 years old. While growing up I experienced a lot of cultures as I met people who had immigrated to Tijuana not only from other parts of Mexico but also from all over the world. Coming to the United States, made me realize how hard it is to leave everything behind and make a new life starting from nothing, which is why when I found out about the MMFRP, I wanted to be part of it. Attending UC San Diego had been my dream since I was a little kid living in Mexico, so now that I am here I believe that I have a responsibility to help people in my community as much as I can. After graduation, I plan on attending a graduate school program in Chemistry to help other first-generation students achieve their dreams of being part of the scientific community.

Mercedes Limón

Mercedes is a 3rd-year transfer student double majoring in Political Science and Sociology, with a minor in Human Rights and Migration.

First and foremost, I am the daughter of two, hardworking, working-class immigrants who immigrated from Cuerámaro, Guanajuato as well as Matatlán, Jalisco in search of a better life. Their decision to immigrate was prompted by a lack of access to education, mobility, and basic needs such as food, shelter, and water. Immigration has been a very prominent subject and issue throughout the entirety of my life resulting in fear, intimidation, and threats directed at my parents due to their immigration status as well as isolation due to fear of deportation. 

I have always been fascinated by immigration and how one’s immigration status can change the trajectory of one’s life. I have seen first-hand and read about the effects of deportation giving me a passion for social justice. Although I have always been interested in immigration, I had never known how to become actively involved in such a field until I came across MMFRP. MMFRP will allow me to delve into research on immigration through hands-on experience.

Jennifer López Guisa

Jennifer is a 3rd-year Sociology major with a minor in Law and Society

As the daughter of two Mexican migrants, from the time I was a young girl I have been taught what hard work is and the doors it can open for you.  Growing up my parents always allowed me to dream big in terms of what I could do in my future. This unconditional support allowed me to branch out into a career nobody in my immediate family has ever done. Deciding to pursue a career as an immigration lawyer stems from growing up surrounded by immigrant communities and seeing how hardworking and deserving they were of having their voices heard and amplified. I hope to serve as someone who can help unite families and advocate for those whose rights are being denied. As an undergraduate student, the MMFRP will give me my first opportunity to experience working in migration, and for that, I am forever grateful. 

David Mendoza

David is a 4th-year Sociology major with a concentration in Law & Society and a minor in Ethnic Studies.

I am a first-generation college student from a small town called Tollhouse outside Fresno, California. As a Mexican American, I am passionate about engaging in work that aims to help marginalized communities and promote social justice. I am particularly interested in helping those that face injustices from immigration. As someone who plans on getting a Ph.D. after completing undergrad, the MMFRP is an excellent opportunity to gain research experience and work with those impacted by immigration. 

Priscilla Montes Grajeda

Priscilla is a 3rd-year Global Health major with a minor in International Studies.

My lived experiences in this country as a daughter of Mexican immigrants have encouraged me to become a first-generation college student and pursue higher education that was never accessible to my parents. My passion for immigrant and refugee health, as well as prior involvement in the field, grew from a desire to address the health disparities and barriers to healthcare these underserved and socially excluded communities experience. I am excited to be a part of MMFRP this year as I believe it provides me with the opportunity to gain further knowledge regarding the challenges and experiences of immigrants and refugees in order to enact change, whilst allowing me to better understand the complex experiences of my family. 

Daniela Moreno

Daniela is a 2nd-year History major with a minor in Human Rights and Migration. 

I am a first-generation Latina college student. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, with a Colombian-immigrant father and a Mexican-American mother from Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. I have always lived in a community with strong Latinx and immigrant roots, whether it be with family or friends. Having my family and these people in my life has kept me connected to my heritage and culture, which is something I deeply value. The history and struggles of immigrants and Latinx-Americans in this country is something admirable as it is something that continues to remain an obstacle. For the longest time, I have had a deep desire to pursue a career in human rights advocacy, which is why I decided to major in History with an emphasis on Law with a minor in Human Rights and Migration. But, I still felt like something else was missing and when I first heard of MMFRP, I immediately wanted to join. I am grateful to have found out about this opportunity and am excited to meet people looking forward to helping our community.

Saul Uriel Perez-Aragon

Saul is a 4th-year Political Science-International Relations major and a transfer student with a minor in Human Rights and Migration.

I am a first-generation Latinx college student. I was born in Los Angeles, CA; however, after my father’s deportation, I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico when I was eight years old. After graduating from high school, I decided to move to Southern California by myself in order to pursue world-class higher education. My journey ever since I moved back to the US has been challenging, because I have faced several financial, emotional, and academic struggles that had to be overcome without any external support. I decided to be part of the MMFRP because currently I frequently cross the US-Mexico border and I have witnessed the inequities and disparities among migrants within the international spectrum.   

Sárah Pulido

Sárah is a 4th-year Ethnic Studies major with a double minor in Human Rights & Migration and Law & Society.

I grew up in Long Beach, California with a heightened awareness of how my family’s history of migration has brought me to where I am today.  Being a queer woman from two cultures who is the daughter of an immigrant has always left me no other choice than to question why marginalized people are misunderstood, neglected, and abused in the United States and beyond. I have been studying migration for three years at UC San Diego, and nothing interests me more.  I see the MMFRP as an opportunity to begin a collaborative and reciprocal research practice wherein students can platform and amplify the experiences of those endangered by the violence of both sides of the militarized border and contribute to material change.  I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and will be working with meticulous attention to what has helped, hurt, and given people hope.

Breanna Ramirez

Breanna is a second-year linguistics major with a minor in education and Spanish literature. 

I am a Mexican American first-generation UC student. I am motivated to continue my education by my family who have constantly instilled the desire to create a better life for myself in me. I have seen my family’s struggles and am aware of how they helped set me up for the life I live today. I am very grateful for all the sacrifices that have been made to get me where I am today. I am passionate about giving back to the Latinx community to help create a better future for those in the community who are struggling. It is one of my core beliefs that everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue a better life with support from others. I believe that through my work in MMFRP I will be able to find new ways to assist the Latinx community. I look forward to giving back to my community through this program. 

Carolina Ramirez Moreno

Carolina is a second-year Ph.D student in the Department of Literature (Spanish emphasis)

(bio to be added)

Vanessa Rodriguez

Vanessa is a 4th-year Global Health major with a minor in Human Rights and Migration 

I am the eldest daughter of two immigrants from Mexico, which means that growing up I had a front-row seat to the treatment of marginalized communities here in California. I grew up in Orange County, in the sanctioned city of Santa Ana. I learned pretty early on that crossing the border was not a blissful or easy task, and that “la migra” (ICE) was what everyone feared the most because it threatened their lives in the extreme- deportation. As a child, I couldn’t begin to grasp the complexities behind migration and the different controversial attitudes society had towards certain minority groups. My interest in migrant health was sparked when I saw the disparities and inequities they encounter on a larger scale through the use of the analytical frameworks I’ve been taught. Prior to the program, my exposure to migrants was limited to my community but I am excited for this year because I’ll be at the front lines rather than through the stories. 

Briana Berlin Ruiz

Briana is a 4th-year Sociocultural Anthropology major with a minor in Human Rights and Migration as well as a transfer student.

I was born and raised in Fresno, California where my passion for human migrant rights advocacy blossomed. With family from Mexico City and Jalisco and seeing my friends and family working labor-intensive jobs from sun-up to sun-down while I was provided the opportunities to focus on my education, this program holds near to my heart as I have been able to experience the stories of these families first-hand. I will further pursue my doctoral studies after my time at UCSD with this program to strengthen and use my knowledge of the structural violence used against Mexican immigrants in the US to make it a safe place for each individual to create, grow, learn, and live.

Dayanara Salazar

Dayanara is a second-year Master of Public Policy student at the School of Global Strategy and Policy focusing on Latin America migration from a security perspective. 

Dayanara is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who, at a young age, faced family separation. Her sensitivity to the human cost of immigration policy motivated her involvement with migration and refugee nonprofits in Cape Town, South Africa and Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she worked on social development and human rights community-based projects, and with a family-based immigration law firm in Los Angeles. With the realization that the US immigration system is founded on racism and discrimination, coupled with her rich experiences and unique insights into the harsh and violent realities of migration, Dayanara utilizes her legal expertise for a social justice orientation. She seeks to humanize migration policies and protect migrants vulnerable to violence on both sides of the southern border and aims to work toward mitigating inequalities through activism, community solidarity, and dignified policies and programs.

Nallely Sandoval-Garcia

Nallely is a second-year Master’s student in the clinical research program. Graduated from medical school, internal medicine, and geriatrics in Mexico.

I am passionate about health and aging. Recently, I added to my interest’s health migration. My health career had let me work in different environments and working with underserved communities in Mexico. Migration has been part of my life because my grandfather and then my father immigrated seeking a better life for their family. Now, I am pursuing higher education in the US, and living this experience has allowed me to be more aware of what it means to be a migrant and the whole process that this entails. It has also permitted me to see all the gaps that exist in health, the risks they run, the fears they face, and the few resources they can access in terms of health. Being part of the MMFRP program gives me the opportunity to learn more about the policies that currently regulate migration and the opportunities we have to raise our voices and try to improve these conditions.

Meghan Traynor

Meghan is a 3rd-year Sociocultural Anthropology major with minors in Spanish Literature and Human Rights and Migration.

As an individual, I am passionate about promoting mutual aid, education, and welfare to strengthen communities in the face of ongoing oppression. Through living and working in the province of Cañar in Ecuador this past summer, I witnessed the violent effects of forced migration, such as parents being forced to leave their children to work in other countries to send money back home, and entire communities being emptied due to forced migration. This experience, as well as forming relationships with and hearing the stories of immigrants from Latin America in the U.S., have largely contributed to my desire to contribute to immigration advocacy. In listening to the stories of migrants, I hope to learn more about what they need in order to receive better support in their process of migration, as well as their path to citizenship. I also look forward to learning from the community organizations that are on the ground advocating for policy change and providing support to migrants in spite of immigration policies that serve to harm them.

Nora Turriago

Nora is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Education Studies.

Before coming to UCSD, I worked as an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher in Massachusetts. In this role, I worked directly with immigrant students and their families, many of whom were new to the country or had fled civil wars and been granted asylum. This professional experience, combined with my life experience as the daughter of immigrants and as a so-called “minority,” has motivated me to advocate for educational equity for multilingual, immigrant students. 

Linda Velasquez

Linda is a third-year Sociology major with a concentration in Law and Society.

I am a proud first-generation Latina student at the University of California – San Diego. I was born in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego at a young age with my maternal grandparents. I am one of four children who have all felt the detrimental effects of immigration policy here. My mother immigrated from Mexico City, Mexico, and my father is a Mexican-American who was born and raised in Northern California. My grandparents also immigrated from Mexico City, Mexico, but my grandmother was born in Michoacan, Mexico.

Education means everything to me because it gives me the opportunity to give my family a better life. Their struggles and efforts have allowed me to pursue higher education – something they could only dream of doing. Their sacrifices have allowed me to have dreams and follow them. This has created a passion in me to help others who find themselves wanting to give the same blessing to their own families. My family has always stressed to me how lucky I am to be able to get a degree. I believe that everyone should have the ability to live a life of their choosing that is free from oppressive measures. That’s why I am eager to make a difference in any capacity I can to ensure that they are able to do so.

Lorena Yu Liao

Lorena is a 5th-year pharmacological chemistry major with a focus on synthetic and organic chemistry.

I am a first-generation student born and raised in Colombia for 15 years. Both my parents are Chinese and decided to immigrate to Colombia and later on to California. Growing up, I was exposed to different cultures and at the same time, the challenges that come with immigration. Even though I am a chemistry student, I am very passionate about giving a voice to those that can’t speak. I love both my cultures and identities since it plays a big role in who I am and where I stand. When I first came to California, I was scared of pursuing higher education since I came from a low-income family. I plan on going to graduate school in the form of a doctoral degree. I decided to be part of the MMFRP because I want to encourage higher education in the physical sciences field.