By Austin Santiago
Published: October 3rd, 2018
Rita Henriquez is running to attack.
The starting defender for the Brooklyn College women’s soccer team makes her way up the field with a burst of intensity to stall the other team’s offense. She succeeds, but perhaps what is even more incredible than watching Henriquez defend for the school soccer team is the story of how she got here.
In a journey that saw her attend two colleges prior to Brooklyn College, as well as moving out of New York at a young age and growing up in Pennsylvania, her story is one of perseverance and unique perspective. Henriquez comes from a loving family, one that knows all too well what it means to overcome adversity. Her mother, Jessica, is an immigrant from Chile who finally secured citizenship after living in the United States for over 20 years.
“As a child, you don’t see a residency status as a primary aspect of your life, until I was in middle school, and I saw my life compared to other kids.” Though the same age as her peers in middle school, Henriquez carried a sense of responsibility that many her age did not have at the time.
She had no choice, as her father had left before she was a teenager. “They separated; my dad just kind of left my mom, she didn’t have job, nor could she speak English, with two kids.”
Understanding that staying idle was not an option, her mother quickly began looking for work, and eventually became a housekeeper.
Henriquez’s mother went to work every day in order to make a better life for her daughter and to make sure that the United States presented the amazing opportunities for her children, the same opportunities she came for in 1987.
Though Henriquez has had a successful college career from both an and academic and athletic perspective, the college application process proved very difficult for her and her mother. It was a process that Henriquez did not enjoy going through and at times made her show frustration with her situation. “It was unfair that I was upset with my mother,” Henriquez explained. “I couldn’t blame her for being ignorant on the process, when it came to financial aid, and applying to college I had to do it myself, she just didn’t know.”
The arguments Henriquez recalled having with her mother are arguments that have become common for many children of immigrants while are first in their family to apply to college; the arguments don’t come from a place of anger, but from one of confusion.
Thankfully, through both persistence and patience, Henriquez has been able to attend college, continuing to set and reach new goals.
Despite all the hardships that came as a result of her mother’s status, as well as the frustration with the college application process, there has always been one positive constant in Rita’s’ life: soccer. Her love for the game is seemingly embedded in her blood. Soccer has represented more than an extracurricular activity for Henriquez and has served as a reminder that hard work pays off and that the game can bring people together. This was a valuable lesson learned while playing at Monroe College.
When asked what soccer players she looks up to, Henriquez was quick to reflect on her teammates from Monroe.
“One of the bigger inspirations were the girls, from Monroe college, who came from thousands of miles away, from nothing, just to come here and play soccer,” she said. Because of that, Henriquez learned how to play with passion and learned to be proud of where she came from: “I play for them.”
In 2018, it can be hard for immigrants and their children to be proud of who they are,and this is a lesson Henriquez hopes to spread to other children of immigrants: “Don’t let society define you as the child of an immigrant, absorb everything this Country can give you.”
Under the current administration, many immigrants have been forced to live in fear while their children wonder if their parents will always be there to support them. Henriquez is now learning the same lesson her mother learned all those years ago, that staying idle is not an option. Henriquez will continue to play soccer, she will continue to make her mother proud, and she will continue to run.