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RACINE — Vivian Esquivel came to the United States from Mexico in September in search of opportunities. Upon coming to Racine, she enrolled at Park High School, with the mindset to take advantage of the education she would get to explore.

First-generation high school graduate Esquivel excels despite language barriers, finds a best friend
On June 3, Vivian became a first-generation high school graduate. She overcame a language barrier and earned a 4.0. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Now, less than a year later, Esquivel is graduating with a 4.0 and is the first in her immediate family to receive a high school diploma.

The journey to graduation wasn’t a walk in the park, it came with more challenges than the average student encounters.

Vivian was faced with a language barrier.

She had to leave her parents, and the life she once knew, and had to navigate a world completely different than what she was used to.

Finding a best friend

However, she didn’t have to walk this journey alone.

At Park, Esquivel met Karla Casillas, a junior, who immigrated to the area for the exact same reasons last year.

Together, they bonded over their enrollment in ESL (English as a Second Language) program, being Latinas, and wanting to create a community that represents Latinx students at Park.

Translating for Vivian, Karla says, “Most of our classes were with people who were non-Spanish speaking. It was hard because you have to translate everything with your phone.”

Working hard became Vivian’s forte.

“She had to dedicate a lot, more time and in simpler classes than other people because of the language,” explains Vivian’s best friend, Karla. “It is better to be patient and don’t give up because it’s not a quick process.”

First-generation high school graduate Esquivel excels despite language barriers, finds a best friend
Karla (left) and Vivian have spent the last year working to create an inclusive environment for Latinx students and families while at Park High School. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Creating a community for the Latinx

“We have a whole lot of Hispanic students here, but not a lot translate,” says Karla.

Vivian found herself stuck when in classes with students who were unable to translate, but she found a way and is now helping to pave the way for others in similar situations.

Just like Karla has helped take Vivian under her wing, Vivian wants to give others a place of belonging.

“I started Latino Student Union (LSU) this year with a friend and Mr. Palacios,” says Karla.

When Vivian arrived at Park, nearly two weeks after the founding of the student-led organization, she joined and became one of the key members.

“The purpose is to make everyone feel included and loved and that Latinos feel that they have a voice at school. Because of course, we have a lot of Latinos in this school, but they might not feel that school is for them,” explains Karla about the organization.

This year, Vivian and Karla made the school a more inclusive place by bringing visibility to the Latinx community.

First-generation high school graduate Esquivel excels despite language barriers, finds a best friend
Vivan decorated her mortarboard for graduation, paying homage to her home country which included the Mexican flag. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Vivian, along with Karla, has helped to provide the school with bilingual announcements.

The two have translated the English announcements so that Spanish speakers are involved in understanding what is going on.

‘You don’t understand like drills, instructions, and tornado drills and everything. You don’t understand anything that they’re saying,” says Karla speaking for herself and Vivian.

Additionally, they hosted two trash pick-up events as a way to unite the school community. For the event, they partnered with the National Honors Society and Black Student Union (BSU). The team also hosted a parent’s night to help bridge the gap between home life and school.

“We try to do this to make them feel like they’re like that there’s a space for them here,” says Karla. Vivian agreed with Karla about the importance of including the parents.

Along with that, Vivian and Karla, as a part of LSU, hosted the school’s first Latino Dance, in place of Formal.

“We just felt like we were not getting the opportunities we deserved,” says Karla speaking for both herself and Vivian.

Making the most of high school

They came in search of opportunities. They came and created those opportunities, for themselves and their families.

Vivian will be taking a year to learn the English language and better her communication skills. Following her year off of school, she has been accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

First-generation high school graduate Esquivel excels despite language barriers, finds a best friend
Park High School’s Class of 2023 graduated on June 3. – Credit: Emma Widmar

She plans to pursue a career in nursing as a way to help others.

It is moments like Vivian’s high school career and being able to graduate not only with high honors but also earning an award for her dedication to her academics that remind the pair of girls why chasing after opportunities is so important and valuable.

“Take every opportunity. There are a lot of people who would like to. Just like to take advantage of every opportunity,” says Karla. “(Vivian) feels the same way about having the opportunities when we get. We’re just grateful to be here, to get this opportunity, because out of every single person that could get the opportunities we get, it was us.”


The Racine County Eye, which includes the Kenosha Lens, is your source for local news that serves our diverse communities. For more K-12 and college education news, check out our Schools section. Subscribe today to stay up-to-date with local news.

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