Hello my name is Marlenee Blas, and I served as the Associate Director at the Center for Social Innovation. I am passionate about access to education and advocating for innovative ways to support a more equitable and sustainable environment in the Inland Empire. Today, my work at the Center for Social Innovation prepares me for the next step in my journey, UC Berkeley Law School in August 2020. After completing a master’s degree in higher education, a Fulbright Fellowship in Brazil, and current meaningful work at the Center for Social Innovation, I continue to be reminded of my own upbringing and why I am pursuing law school.
I was born in San Pedro de Los Metates, an autonomous Otomi indigenous community north of Mexico City. While I came to the U.S undocumented at first, my parents were determined to later begin the legalization process against all odds to ultimately provide my brother and I the education they didn’t have.
When I was a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara I became a U.S. citizen, but I have not forgotten those early years, and in my role, I often encounter situations that remind me of students like myself: students taking risks to pursue higher education. During the summer of 2018, one of our UCR students, a third-year DACA recipient, was sent to Arizona on a door-to-door sales internship program. He was stopped and fined for having an expired permit to conduct sales and the company didn’t want to take responsibility. Following that event, I witness how our campus counsel intervened, persuading the company to make amends so that our student could receive the support needed to secure legal representation. This experience taught me that I needed to learn more about professional pathways and legal considerations in order to better mentor undocumented students.
As an educator, as an immigrant, and as a first-generation college student, I have been motivated by my own students to develop programs that focus on empowerment and securing a brighter future. With the partnership of Undocumented Student Programs, I co-founded the Butterfly Project, a career development program, and the first of its kind in the University of California system.
Today, I am doing everything I can, and I want to do more. Educational opportunities for immigrants and low-income students are more imperiled than ever, and DACA is itself at risk as UC is arguing the case before the Supreme Court. Whatever the outcome of that case, I want to become an attorney so that I can have the broadest possible impact on the lives of my students and my community. I am witnessing the debate on television, but I want to be at the table to defend what my parents sacrificed their lives for: access to quality education.