American Dream down, plenty more ahead for Craig grad Mayra Cortes
JANESVILLE — Mayra Cortes has experienced the American Dream firsthand.
Now, the Craig senior has aspirations of her own.
Her parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was 4 years old. Her father decided to move the family in search of a better opportunity.
"My dad came here first," Mayra said. "He started working and then sent for my family. A lot of our extended family is still in Mexico."
When she arrived, she spoke little English and found it difficult to assimilate to American life.
"My sister and I had to be translators for our parents," Mayra said. "I am in a family that has four girls and two boys, and I am the second-oldest. It was tough at first getting used to American customs. You don't want to be too American or too Mexican."
Mayra said her family moved often when they first arrived in the United States, making it difficult to adjust.
"We moved to Janesville, then Chicago, then back to Janesville, then Evansville," Mayra said. "We finally moved to Janesville for good the last three months of sixth grade."
After the family settled in Janesville, Mayra blossomed, her sister Fany Cortes said.
"She is very balanced," Fany said. "She tries to balance a lot in school and also help out at home. She's very hardworking and not just as a student but at home as well. I'm proud of what she's accomplished so far."
Mayra's involvement at Craig included representing the school at a model United Nations summit in Milwaukee and president and co-founder of the Latino Leadership Club.
She considers forming the club last year as one of her greatest accomplishments in high school, she said.
"The goal is to support them to become leaders," Mayra said. "Before the Latino Leadership Club, you would see more Latinos not participating in school activities. Now you see more."
The group does volunteer work, hosts speakers and has college representatives speak to Latino students about opportunities after high school.
"The club pretty much forms another family for me with all the Latino students," Mayra said.
Jane Thompson, dean of students for the Janesville Academy of International Studies, said Mayra has an uncanny ability to inspire her peers. Mayra attends the academy each afternoon as a part of her classes at Craig.
"Mayra does what she says she's going to do," Thompson said. "If she takes on a project, she sees it through. There are so many skills required to be successful in life. Mayra has taken resiliency and perseverance from growing up with her experiences. Those can be difficult things to learn in school."
Mayra plans to attend Blackhawk Technical College in the fall to study criminal justice and law. She has aspirations of being an immigration attorney.
"I want to become a lawyer to help people like me," Mayra said. "A lot of them can't really do much here and need someone to help them out."
She credits her parents for keeping her on the right track and pushing her to be successful.
"My parents both were in school until the sixth grade, so they want us to take the opportunities they never had," Mayra said. "Even though sometimes it's hard, I can accomplish anything because of the support they've given me. They've always wanted the best from me."
Fany said it makes her happy to see her little sister succeed.
"It makes me feel good inside," Fany said. "It's the way our parents raised us. They know she's got a very good future ahead of her."
Mayra credits teachers such as Thompson for keeping her on the right track through high school.
"She has a big heart for people," Thompson said. "She loves to serve and isn't one to stand by. She has a wonderful sense of humor and a definite happiness that doesn't have a bottom.
"She's never going to give up on preparing for her career."