Undocumented to Community Extraordinaire
By Samra Hernandez
“There are preconceived notions of what people are capable of, and people put us in boxes,” Adriana Murrietta states with her eyes fixed on the bare ceiling of Giant Coffee. Murrieta's concentrated stare on the ceiling is an indicator of her frustration on how society continues to misinterpret marginalized communities. However, Murrietta defies society's preconceived notions of people of color by being an active advocate for quality education to all disadvantaged students in Arizona.
On a Monday afternoon, Murrietta arrived at Giant Coffee wearing a dusty rose colored dress with her hair loosely gathered into a bun. As she reclines onto a white leather chair, she immediately begins to discuss her adolescence. Murrietta says, “I was born in Colombia, and my parents moved to Long Island, New York when I was just twelve years old.” Her family’s relocation to Long Island resulted in Murrietta being one of the only brown girls with a Colombian accent in a predominantly white neighborhood. “My parents were able to put me in really good schools at the sacrifice of them constantly working,” Murrietta explains. Even though Murrietta had access to educational resources at her schools, the faculty limited her aspirations. Murrietta’s high school college counselor suggested that she attend community college post her high school graduation; however, her supportive mentors advised her to apply to academically rigorous colleges. She discusses with her shoulders poised back, “I didn’t want people to limit my opportunities based on what I looked like or where I came from.” Therefore, she ignored her counselor’s suggestion and attended a prestigious college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Prior to her transition to college in Pittsburgh, she underwent challenges concerning her legal status in the United States. These challenges included the fact that Murrietta was undocumented. “I guess because I was going to schools where that wasn’t a conversation, it really never hit me until it came time to apply for college,” Murrietta discusses in a purposeful tone.
While Murrietta studied in Pittsburgh, she majored in business with a minor in airline industry, because she wanted to travel the world for business occasions. However, after she graduated from college, she relocated to Arizona where she discovered that not all students receive a quality education. “Little by little, I began to figure out that most immigrants don’t have the resources to choose a really great school. Most parents don't have the ability to choose a really good school, because they are limited by the neighborhood they’re in, transportation, and socioeconomic status,” she explains while sitting on the edge of the white leather chair. Murrietta’s discovery of Arizona’s education system influenced her to become a political organizer and a worker in nonprofit organizations. She says with slight laughter, “Today, 99% of what I do has to do with education.” Specifically, Murrietta helps coordinate a yearly education fair for disadvantaged families to attend. This fair administers college workshops, scholarships, and leadership building to nearly 8,000 families in partnership with Univision Arizona.
In addition to Murrietta’s organization of the college fair, she now runs a local nonprofit that focuses on providing opportunities to low-income families to close the achievement gap. She solely works with nonprofit organizations, because her past involvement in the political sphere emotionally drained her. While shaking her head left and right, Murrietta explains, “Legislators tell you that your bill is really good, but they deny it because it will politically destroy them.” Like many others, Murrietta became discouraged with the legislators.
In concurrent to Murrietta’s advocacy for equal education to disadvantaged students, she remains involved with her daughter’s education. Her daughter Kaitlyn Murrietta is a current sophomore at Arizona School for the Arts (ASA). Murrietta says, “It was a joint decision between my daughter and me for Kaitlyn to attend ASA in the fifth grade.” As a Board of Director at Arizona School for the Arts, Murrietta believes that ASA offers students a unique environment with challenging academics.
Even though her daughter approaches her high school graduation year, Murrietta contemplates on whether or not she will relocate out of Arizona. Yet, two minutes after her contemplation, she responds, “I do feel loyal to Arizona, because my family moved around a lot, and Arizona has been home to me for the past seventeen years.” Murrietta expands on her comment by stating that, “Arizona really needs advocates to tell our story. I never felt discriminated against until I moved to Arizona, and that tells you that there is a need.”
From Murrietta’s journey to the United States and relocation to Arizona, she has continued to defy preconceived notions of her physical appearance and Colombian accent. Murrietta ignored her college counselor’s suggestion to attend community college, studied at a prestigious college in Pittsburgh, and confronted the racial disparities in Arizona’s education system.