Home is Where the Heart Is

The Texas Story Project.

Karla Vargas, an attorney for the local nonprofit organization Texas Civil Rights Project, has been living in the Rio Grande Valley for around six months now. Vargas followed her passion through her career down to the valley to help immigrants and their families through the mountains of legal work and battles.

Before this, she lived in El Paso for two years, lived in Austin while she completed her education, lived her teenage years in Dallas, and lived her first few years in Mexico. Karla has been moving around the southern region for the entirety of her life, so she had to learn quickly that home is where she makes it, not where she is geographically bound to.

Karla Vargas was born in Dallas, Texas to Rosa Maria Vargas, a single mother who had just moved to the United States on a visa from Mexico. A few months after her birth, Rosa Maria missed her home and her parents, so she decided to move back to León, Guanajuato to raise her daughter with their help for the next five years. Karla grew extremely close with her grandparents and found that it took an emotional toll on her to have to leave them when her mother decided to move back to Dallas.

Adjusting to the Love Field area of Dallas, Karla was ambushed with the difficulties of strengthening her English, culturally adapting, fighting the feeling of isolation from her own community, and missing her family that lived 993 miles away from her. Along with these heavy emotions came having to grow up pretty quickly. As Karla explains, it is what most children of immigrants are responsible for. She became the primary translator for her mother and always tagged along to doctors’ visits, school meetings, and helped her navigate their new cultural environment. While being tasked with this accountability very early on, Karla still managed to perform at the Gifted and Talented level, leading her to move to Austin, Texas upon graduation. Being a student at the University of Texas at Austin, from her bachelor’s degree in Chicano studies, to her master’s degree, and up to her Juris Doctorate degree, opened her perceptions up to the history of her people and the activism that she assumed while fighting for her people. Upon completing her education, she followed her passion for activism to a career opportunity in El Paso, Texas, where she began her work with immigrant people who had stories much like her family’s. Two years passed and once again Karla followed where her career took her, this time to the Rio Grande Valley, to continue her purpose in life—the immigration fight.

“Life is what happens when you make plans” is how Karla describes her philosophy on life. She lived by this philosophy very strictly as a student because she was always prepared for the next plan. Now that she is following her career, which doubles as her passion, she initially found it hard to acclimate to being liberal with her plans. But now she has become very open to the opportunities that life sporadically presents. What has helped her accept this is the presence of “home” being where she chooses to make it. She described León, Guanajuato as home because of the upbringing she had and the people she had it with, mentioning that she would go back every summer since she left. She does not forget to mention that home is also Austin, where she was given the unheard history of her people. Home is Dallas, where she watched her mom work tiring shifts as a housekeeper in a local hotel and where Ms. Salas, her ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher helped her identify her potential, support her in her new educational setting, and help set her life trajectory. She mentions that the valley also resonates a strong feeling of home with her because of the strong ties with her Mexican identity. The valley gave her the experience to connect with her biculturalism and identify the cultural splits that are, at the same time, still very much connected. Where and when the next phase in Karla Vargas’ life will take her is unclear, but she does not let herself forget that she is completely open to those next steps, as long as she continues the work she does in the name of her family and remembers the presences of home she has made along the way.

Citlalli Rivera is a freshman political science student at St. Mary’s University at San Antonio, Texas. Born and raised in San Antonio and a first-generation child and student, she hopes to make her family and her city proud.

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