On May 27, Dallas ISD’s Board of Trustees recognized Kamila Vargas, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, as the 2021 recipient of the Council of Great City Schools’ Green-Garner Scholarship, based on her high academic performance and strong character. The scholarship accompanied CGS’ recognition of Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa as its 2021 Superintendent of the Year.
“I feel so lucky to be chosen,” Kamila said. “When I got the news that I had won the scholarship, I felt really happy that they had read my story and that I was being seen.”
Kamila’s parents came from Mexico when they were in their early twenties–her dad from the northern state of Durango and her mother from the southern state of Guerrero– and settled in Dallas. “This is the only area that we really know; for us, this is home,” said Kamila. However, six years ago their lives were transformed by the sudden deportation of her father. Her mother stepped in to provide for the family and Kamila also assumed a supportive role for her brother.
“It was very tough on all of us, because my dad was the main support of our family,” Kamila said. “But my mom worked really hard, long hours to provide for us. She made sure that we were well mentally and physically, and she inspired me to keep pushing for more opportunities and in my academics.”
Despite the distance, technology has played an important role in keeping the family together. “Thank God, we have these phones, because we are able to see each other’s faces,” said Kamila. “We call each other as much as possible and we spend time telling stories over the phone. It can be a little awkward to not see each other in person, but it also makes me feel like we are together again.”
Kamila’s teachers at Thomas Jefferson High School noticed her commitment from the very beginning. They praised her as a hard-working student, highlighting her work ethic and close attention to detail, as well as her ability to work with others. “Kamila is an amazing student and her hard work and academics prove that she is determined to succeed in her plans,” said Alejandra Chavez, campus advisor for the Education is Freedom higher ed support program.
One element of Kamila’s character that her teachers highlighted is that she’s always presenting her culture in the proudest way that she can. And as a future major in radio and television, first at Dallas College at Brookhaven and then the University of Texas at Austin, Kamila wants to help transform the way Latinos are portrayed in popular media. “I really want to see us being something other than drug dealers or housemaids or gardeners. I want to show that we have stories in which we are the main characters,” she said.
“I’ve been living in an area where there are mainly Hispanics and Latinos. So I haven’t really struggled with my identity of being Latina. And I find that I am lucky to have that,” Kamila added. “I do realize that I am a minority in the United States and I feel more proud to be from Mexico, or that my parents are from Mexico. I still feel connected, even though I haven’t visited Mexico in years.”
Finally, like every other senior at TJ, Kamila’s last year was marked by the destruction of their original campus in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the shared experiences helped them rebuild their community. “It was really tough, and we have gone through a lot of issues,” said Kamila. “But that’s okay, it was tough, but we worked it through. Like we always do.”