“Something was missing in my life, that part of education that I didn’t have made me feel incomplete”.
Born and raised in Yuriria, Guanajuato, a small town near the center of Mexico, Maria Socorro Castlleja faced many challenges throughout her childhood. After making the journey to the U.S, she faced barriers such as her own father not allowing her to attend school.
Castilleja’s story starts when she was just a teenager living inYuriria. Part of a poor family, she was raised with the mentality that women should stay at home instead of attending school. After completing sixth grade, her father refused to put her in school the following year. She was forced to stay at home with her mother and help out around the house. Nevertheless, the desire to learn more continued to burn inside her.
She knew this passion for learning could only be fulfilled if she came to the United States. The opportunity arose, and when she was fifteen years old, Castilleja and her family moved to Holland.
Hopeful for a better future, she sought out the education she deserved. Her dreams did not yet come true. Her father made her stay with her mother in their small house all day, and she was unable to go to school. This isolation from the world was debilitating. She experienced long bouts of anxiety and depression.
After a few months, her mental state was so bad that her family admitted her to a clinic. They wanted to take her to the hospital, but couldn’t afford it. “I was so skinny. I didn’t eat. I was depressed, with so much time not going out of my house,” Castilleja said.
While recovering in the clinic, a lifeline arose. Castilleja meet a counselor named Silvia Daple. Castilleja credits Daple with rescuing her. Daple spoke to her father, saying that if he didn’t allow Castilleja to attend school, he would go to jail.
This was the turning point for Castilleja. She went to middle school for a couple months and later to Holland High School. Thrown into a completely unfamiliar atmosphere, Castilleja quickly had to learn English while also trying to balance her schoolwork and new social setting. She says that enrolling in the Upward Bound program and Daple continued support was instrumental in this adjustment.
After much perseverance, and earning her high school diploma, Castilleja began thinking about what comes next. She knew she wanted to do more. She knew learning was in her future. She knew it wouldn’t be easy.
While applying to universities, Castilleja had to forge her father’s signature on her applications. She applied without ever directly telling her father of her plans to leave. Her fortitude and hard work got her accepted into Hope College, Grand Valley State University, and Ferris State University. Each institution offered her full tuition scholarships because of her academic excellence in high school.
Castilleja decided Hope College was the place for her. She took three classes, but ended up transferring because she couldn’t afford housing and the cost of living at Hope. She transferred to the more affordable Grand Valley State University
During college, Castilleja married to her husband of 21 years. Relationship struggles resulted in them separating for a few months, but they are now back together with two sons, Daniel and Isaih.
Graduating from Grand Valley opened up a world of opportunity and interests. Castilleja started her master’s degree in Salamanca, Spain. She wasn’t able to finish her master’s in Spain, but is continuing to take classes to get her master’s degree to this day. “I never stop. Even as a teacher, I never stop studying. I always try to be better.”
Evidently, Castilleja’s father was wrong to isolate her in her youth, but it has made her the strong woman she is today. Her story inspires others to push through the barriers stopping them from their dreams. Castilleja says, “My advice for women is to never stop. Women can also have the opportunities. We have the right to work, to have a profession, to be independent, and to have a positive influence on our children.”