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Xavier Medina

College: LaGuardia Community College
Awards: Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, 2015

Living an American Life

The first time Xavier Medina remembers meeting his mother was when he was 7, getting off the airplane from Ecuador in 1993. "She left when I was 2 and would call and send pictures," he says. "She left for economic reasons, to build a better life for our family."

Medina didn't realize that he had entered the country illegally until he applied to college. "I was accepted at good four-year schools, but being undocumented, I couldn't apply for scholarships and didn't have the resources to pay myself. I took a break, worked and enrolled at LaGuardia [Community College], where my immigrant status didn't matter and everything came together."

Now Medina (LaGuardia Community College, A.A. Liberal Arts-Social Science, '15) has won a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides about 85 of the nation’s top community college students with up to $40,000 a year for up to three years of baccalaureate study. Medina will attend Columbia University and major in political science.

Through LaGuardia's honors program, he has twice presented on lesser known aspects of immigration at the Northeast Regional Honors Conference, which attracts two- and four-year college students.

At Niagara Falls in 2014, he described the Bracero Program, which between 1942 and 1964 let Mexican laborers temporarily work in the United States, primarily in agriculture. "My premise was presenting the inefficiencies of power between nations," he explains. "When Mexico sits down with the United States, it always has the short end of the deal."

At the 2015 conference in Gettysburg, he analyzed NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, through it's impact on Mexican hog farmers. "They could not compete with the cheaper pork that flooded the Mexican market via transnational U.S. hog corporations and, as a result, had to close or sell off. They laid off thousands of Mexican workers who later crossed into the U.S. to work for American hog companies, which was ironic. When NAFTA started, it was supposed to benefit all the countries involved, but that didn't happen, because both sides were thinking only of the corporations, not the human element."

He praises LaGuardia's honors program. "It's such an amazing experience to take classes with professors who are so passionate about what they're teaching," he says, particularly Karen Miller in urban studies, James Wilson in English and Karlyn Koh, the honors program director. Meanwhile, he and other honors students provided peer assistance to other students.

For the moment, Medina is protected from deportation and can work under President Barack Obama's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, but he finds the situation perplexing. "I know very little about Ecuador. I grew up knowing and loving this country."

His family keeps him centered. "Once I came here to the U.S., I was raised by my mother and sister, who have influenced me in many ways - especially by supporting my goals and pushing me in the right directions."

With the Jack Kent Cooke award, he's further on his way.