DANBURY, Conn. – Danbury’s Jessica Coraizaca fought her parents at every turn when it came time for to leave Ecuador when she was 12 years old. Now that she will graduate from Western Connecticut State University on Sunday as a Dean’s List student and the first from her family to earn a college degree, she knows her parents made the right decision.
“Now I don’t want to go back,'' said Coraizaca, who will graduate with a bachelor's in secondary education and Spanish and a 3.84 GPA. "I want to have my life here. When I was 12, I had so much anger with me. As you grow up, you realize you can adapt to this country.”
Coraizaca’s parents moved from Ecuador when she only a year old. She stayed behind, living with her grandmother and aunt. The plan was for her parents, Ana and Jaime, to work here for a few years and then return to Ecuador. They ended up staying in the United States, much to Jessica’s dismay. She did not see her parents for 11 years before she also moved to Danbury.
“I never wanted to come here,’’ she said. “I was so mad my parents left me. I didn’t want to learn English. It was very hard adjusting to life here. My sister (Jacqueline, a year younger) came a year earlier. The good thing was at least I had my parents and my sister here.”
Her parents took her to Danbury Public Library to help her learn English. For the past seven years, Jessica has worked as a clerk at the library, one of two part-time jobs she held while also attending school. The plan all along was for her to earn a college degree.
“From Day 1 of coming to this country, that was the goal,’’ Coraizaca said. “Failure was not an option. The reason they came here was for me and my sister (a student at Central Connecticut State University) to get a better education.”
Given a chance at quality education, Coraizaca embraced it. Shy as a young teen, the turning point came when Linda Mitten, a child development teacher at Danbury High School, encouraged Coraizaca to pursue education as a career.
“She opened doors for me,’’ Coraizaca said. “She made the whole difference. Because of her, I wanted to be a teacher. I know the impact it can make on other students. So many kids have the same story as me. I think I can make a difference.”
Coraizaca flourished at Western Connecticut. She made the Dean’s List every semester. She was named one of two recipients of the Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award, which recognizes GPA, community service and overall outstanding achievement. She has won a litany of other awards and was active in several clubs. She was president of the school’s LETRA Club, which created multi-cultural awareness around the campus, community and internationally.
She also squeezed in community service projects, including a trip to Nicaragua in 2013 to visit school children, mentored students at Danbury High, translated registration information for Spanish speakers in the Danbury Project Homeless Connect and taught religious education for seven years.
“Balance was the hardest part,’’ Coraizaca said. “I’m passionate about everything I do.”
For her final semester, Coraizaca accepted a student teaching assignment in New Fairfield. When a teacher left on medical leave a day after she arrived, Coraizca found herself leading the classroom two days into her assignment. “I loved it,’’ she said. “When I started, I was a Danbury girl and I didn’t know if I could do my student teaching there. I was afraid. Now I don’t want to leave. It assures me that I’m in the right profession.”
She is encouraged by job prospects, even in a tight labor market. She will leave the school with a mix of apprehension, excitement and justifiable pride. The young girl who didn’t want to leave Ecuador and knew not a word of English will receive a college degree. She has lived her American dream.
“I can’t believe it, the school year has flown by,’’ she said. “I’m happy with my decision to go to West Conn. I leave with a lot of pride that I’ll be West Conn alum.”