Alondra Vázquez López finds agency in her personal history

Alondra Vázquez López.
Alondra Vázquez López (Photo by Sydney Holmes ’21)

Running down a list of all the courses she has taken at Yale, Alondra Vázquez López points out that many have “Mexico” in their title.

The country looms large in her life: It’s her father’s birthplace. And it’s where Vázquez López, a resident of Grace Hopper College, has spent many hours helping asylum seekers in the border cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.

Born in the U.S., Vázquez López grew up in California in a mixed-status family. Her mother is from Guatemala. It was not unusual for school personnel to call her home to warn of possible U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. Sometimes, family trips to church were followed by visits with relatives in detention centers.

While that life felt “normal” to Vázquez López growing up, her Yale coursework and research, particularly in her ethnicity, race, and migration major (ER&M), helped her see her family’s history in a wider context.

I began to connect the dots between our history and the United States’ punitive immigration policy,” Vázquez López said. “I came to understand how my identity as a U.S. citizen privileges me, in that I’m afforded a sort of mobility that some of my family members will never have.”

Last winter, Vázquez López — whose parents’ schooling ended in fifth grade — won a coveted Rhodes Scholarship for study at the University of Oxford, where she will pursue a master’s degree in migrant studies. She aspires to become an immigration lawyer.

Vázquez López is a fierce advocate for undocumented migrants. As an intern with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and other organizations, she has helped with asylum applications both at the Mexican border and remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. She helped found and is president of an undergraduate chapter of the Estamos Unidos Asylum Project and is vice president of a nonprofit club dedicated to creating portraits for children worldwide who have endured adversity.

Painting of a migrant family.
Painting by Vázquez López of a migrant family.

An artist, Vázquez López painted portraits of migrants who shared their stories with her as part of her senior thesis on clandestine migrant corridors.

I think the media tends to sensationalize [migrant] journeys, depicting a lot of suffering,” she said. “My thesis highlights how their fugitivity allowed them control over their own movement when the state denied them pathways to entering countries like the United States safely. The corridors, though perilous, offer migrants a way to override systems of oppression.”

Yale highlights have included tutoring young students at Fair Haven School, a public school where students are taught in English and Spanish, making friends in Latina Women at Yale, and the support she found in the ER&M program.

Making Black, Indigenous, and students of color like me feel their histories are worthy is very empowering,” she said. 

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