By Kayla Sosa | photography by Elyse Wild
For Adriana Almanza, advocating for others is not only a part of her work in the community, but it’s a part of who she is. For years, Almanza has spoken up about issues such as immigration rights, the needs of students, and racism. Almanza, 32, is the assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) where she oversees initiatives for Hispanic students. This March, she was awarded the Young Hispanic Professional of the Year by the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Almanza attributes her work ethic to her father, Raul Almanza.
Raul was born one of 11 children in Mexico. He came to the United States to work for his family, first arriving in California, undocumented. He worked on farms in Michigan and Florida during different seasons, before settling in Michigan. It was there that he met his wife and the couple had Adriana.
You may have already heard of Adriana and her father by this point. The duo went viral on Facebook back in 2015 when she posted a “Letter to Donald Trump” in response to then-candidate Trump’s comments connecting Mexican immigrants with drugs and violent crime.
After simmering for a few days, Almanza took to Facebook to post her letter, in which she explained who her father is and how he is not any of the descriptors Trump used, but a hardworking example of an American.
“My first encounter with undocumented immigration is the story of my father, and so I know that’s not his story,” she said. “For me, it wasn’t about attacking what (Trump) said, it was more like, ‘Look at my father’s story, which is the story of many other undocumented immigrants.’”
Today, the post has 333,000 likes, 3,500 comments and 139,000 shares. Throughout Trump’s presidency, immigration issues have been at the top of daily news coverage.
“I feel like he’s created so much divide and negative rhetoric,” Almanza said. “It’s really disheartening and discouraging, but at the same time I see the community getting together and supporting and really working hard to make sure that’s not the language that we use — that that’s not the message we’re giving out.”
Almanza got her bachelor’s degree in International Relations with a minor in Latin American Studies from GVSU. She also received a graduate degree there in adult and higher education, with an emphasis on undocumented student access to higher education.
One of the programs she oversees at GVSU is Laker Familia, a program that exposes students to academic and career opportunities and cultural activities and helps students keep each other accountable throughout the academic year. Almanza also oversees the annual Hispanic Heritage celebration and the César E. Chávez celebration and co-chairs the Latino Faculty and Staff Association.
Starting this fall, she will be overseeing the Undocumented and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Task Force at GVSU. The team is made up of administrators and educators who will look at how the university works with its undocumented and DACA students through providing support and looking at the university’s practices and policies. On a statewide level, Almanza is a part of a group that looks at undocumented and DACA student policies and practices in Michigan overall.
“I come from the community, I see a lot of the injustices that are happening,” she said. “I see a lot of room for growth and potential, and it’s really important for me to be able to give back […] My father sacrificed a lot leaving his country and his family behind. I want to make sure he knows that his sacrifices were not made in vain […] I’m also giving back to the community that really influenced me growing up.”
The biggest issues that Almanza is working on within the Hispanic community right now are immigration reform and education.
“The conversation has gone on far too long,” she said. “Something needs to happen.”
Almanza hopes to see a path to citizenship for those who aren’t protected under DACA.
“A lot of people think that when we say ‘immigration reform’ we’re saying ‘just let everybody in and there shouldn’t be a process,’” Almanza said. “It’s about reforming the process because the process doesn’t work […] I see that far too often — people have an opinion, but they really don’t want to take the time to research or educate themselves on what that looks like.”
At the time she was nominated for the Young Hispanic Professional of the Year Award, she was on maternity leave at home with her two young children.
“I was getting to the point where I was just feeling really down because I felt like I wasn’t contributing the way I had in the past, and I missed my students quite a bit,” Almanza said. “It came at a good time for me emotionally, when I needed that encouragement and reinforcement that my work matters, and what I do in the community matters.”
Almanza plans to run again for the Wyoming school board in 2020 after losing last year’s election. She is also developing a clothing line focused on social justice, culture and politics.
“I think clothing is an easy way to wear things and you see someone else with something of the same sentiment, and you can get that feeling of, ‘I’m with you,’” she said.
Almanza plans to donate a portion of the funds from the clothing sales to a scholarship fund for undocumented/DACA students. Almanza managed such a fund at GVSU in 2014, and while she was able to award scholarships to five students, the funds have since depleted. She hopes the next one can be run through a community organization so the students could use the scholarship at any college or university.