Growing up in Dayton was an education for Stephanie Patino-Garfias. And it was sometimes painful.
She saw fellow Latinos racially profiled and roughed up by police. She watched helplessly as some of her friends and family were deported.
“I’ve seen families being separated; I’ve seen children crying,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my community I wished I would have never seen. But because I’ve seen them, it made me who I am today.”
Patino-Garfias has turned that pain into a fiery passion for immigration reform.
The freshman Wright State political science/communication major was the lone Ohio representative at a recent national Hispanic conference, where she lobbied for resources and developed skills that will enable her to better advocate for the Latino community.
She has since started a youth group with the League of United Latin American Citizens and plans to lobby local elected officials on immigration reform.
Patino-Garfias is also working with the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Political Science to raise money for the families of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Mexico who were kidnapped last year in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, and are feared to have been killed. She met with two of the family members recently when they were hosted at The Ohio State University and gave them a $600 donation that had been raised at Wright State.
Patino-Garfias’ parents, immigrants from Mexico, run a successful janitorial service in Dayton. Their daughter studied theater at Stivers School for the Arts, where she graduated last year with a 4.2 GPA.
But her journey was not the easiest.
She grew up as one of the few Latinas in school and felt isolated because she couldn’t speak Spanish to anyone there. She would get parts in plays simply because she fit a stereotype and felt pressured to lose her cultural identity in order to fit in.
Her Spanish-speaking parents couldn’t really help her with her homework, and she was on her own filling out college applications.
Patino-Garfias was persuaded to attend Wright State by Tony Ortiz, associate vice president of Latino affairs and a member of the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs.
“It was the best decision I could have ever made,” she said. “I love it with all my heart. Everyone is so welcoming. And there are so many opportunities and resources, especially for the Latino students.”
For example, Patino-Garfias was selected to take part in a high-level communication honors class simply because the instructor saw potential in her.
“There are people here who genuinely want to help you, genuinely want you to succeed,” she said. “They truly care about me. I feel it. I see it.”
Wright State is engaged in a $150 million fundraising campaign that promises to further elevate the school’s prominence by expanding scholarships, attracting more top-flight faculty and supporting construction of state-of-the-art facilities. Led by Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks and Amanda Wright Lane, great grandniece of university namesakes Wilbur and Orville Wright, the campaign has raised more than $112 million so far.
When a nun from her church told Patino-Garfias about the upcoming 2015 Emerge Latino conference in Washington, D.C., that provides college students with public policy briefings on health, education and immigration, she just had to go. However, she had missed the registration deadline for the three-day leadership event , which is sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens.
But Patino-Garfias was able to attend the February conference thanks to sponsorship help by Ortiz. Of the 200 students from across the country who attended, she was the only one from Ohio.
The students were instructed on how to advocate for education, immigration and health reform by a panel that included White House officials and government attorneys. Patino-Garfias was later able to meet with the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and two California congressmen.
“We talked about things we want to do in our communities,” she said. “We need bilingual teachers. We need to spread the word about Medicaid, Medicare. We need bilingual doctors. We need immigration reform.”