Ms. Cifuentes, a Latin Hero


Ashley De Leon, Contributor

She was a child living in Guatemala City with her mother and grandmother, surrounded by four “láminas de metal” (walls of thin metal) along with a cardboard wall dividing the house into two. Ms. Cifuentes’ most memorable memories are of those when rain trickled down then pouring into her metal box. Her bed would become soaked, her house would flood, and just as all her home memories would wash away, so did her faith. 

When Ms. Cifuentes was six years old, her mother, Silvia, packed what little they had and fled from their poverty-ridden home to the United States, leaving behind desolate poverty and a lack of upward mobility. There are many families similar to the Cifuentes’. According to data from the Census Bureau, nearly 14 million new undocumented and documented immigrants have settled in the country from 2000 to 2010. Demonstrating that millions of immigrants were fleeing their countries for the same reasons the Cifuentes’ did, to escape poverty and reach the land of promise. 

Having worked at San Rafael High School’s College and Career Center for nearly four months, Ms. Cifuentes has been able to make great strides in revamping and raising awareness of the CCC’s resources. She has done this by using an outlet most familiar to many high school students, Instagram. She has been able to share scholarships, financial aid assistance, resources, and even welcomes students to directly message her with any pressing questions or concerns.

“I’m really glad that she grew up in Marin and is an immigrant,” says Merely Maldonado, one of the few females in SRHS’s Physics Academy. “A lot of kids need to see that being successful after high school is possible for them.” 

“She’s really helpful. She is still learning how everything works at San Rafael High, but even then she makes a big impact in people’s lives,” says Maldonado, a regular at the CCC. According to Maldonado, first-generation college-bound students like her feel comfortable enough to ask Ms. Cifuentes anything. 

Raised in California, having attended San Marin High School, College of Marin, and Sonoma State (she majored in sociology), Ms. Cifuentes thanks programs like AVID and her high school’s CCC. They were able to guide and support her through her voyage of understanding what it meant to be a first generation female of color applying to college. 

Coming to the states without any formal education and not knowing how to speak English, Ms. Cifuentes faced a variety of obstacles, including being held back in third grade due to her lack of a western-styled education. To her, the United States was a place of hope and opportunity. However, she quickly came to terms that this gilded concept of prosperity was twice as hard for a first generation student of color. 

Being educated in a school where most of her counselors were not of Latin origin, she said, “Even though they tried to help, I felt like it was not enough and they had a different viewpoint of what I had and needed . . . As a low income, first generation Latina, and my advisors being white and older, they did not have all the information that I needed.” She was not able to trust her school in understanding where her concerns lied. 

For this same reason, her passion to help educate students of all different types of backgrounds ignited. The lack of mentoring during her high school days was why she felt eager to help kids from similar backgrounds understand and get the support they need in school and beyond. She decided to take action and become the new College and Career advisor. 

“Open, friendly, and hardworking,” said ELD teacher Brent Arndt. He recalls being highly impressed with Ms. Cifuentes’ effort to introduce herself and the CCC. He told of a time when she went out of her way to stay and work with groups. “She was able to intuit where she could help students (and me) the most.” He continued saying, “Students immediately felt comfortable with her. They understand her and know that they are being understood…” According to Arndt, “She’s indispensable because students need a person who can help them and provide information, but whose role is never disciplinary or punitive.”

In a short amount of time, Ms. Cifuentes has planted her roots and the San Rafael community has taken notice.

“She embodies what we hope our students will one day be, a university graduate working toward the betterment of our community. Also, representation, as a Guatemalan woman on our staff, she gives some of our students a person to look up to,” stated Ivan Diaz, Marin County Schools Internship Liaison.

Ms. Cifuentes fills an essential role for many students. She has the capability to relate to the younger generation, which is one of the key reasons many students turn to her for aid.

Diaz told of a time when Ms. Cifuentes, Ms. Itzun (a 10k Degrees mentor), and he got lost looking for each other before heading to present to a SRHS class. They called each other multiple times, but because the AD staircases in San Rafael High School are like mazes, they kept missing one another. 

During my free period, you can find me in the CCC chatting with Ms. Cifuentes. As a student looking forward to college, I believe her start in the CCC has been impressive. She goes above and beyond to contact students to ensure everything from college applications to financial aid to their well being is handled properly. 

She is the representation of a strong, proud, hustling Latina. Due to her work ethic and her mission of wanting to educate those who have no representation, she is a force to be reckoned with. Her desire to help others, her ability to make people feel heard, and her capability to relate to the younger generation is essential for our community. Seydi Cifuentes is not only a strong and outgoing woman, but due to her charm, she gives a home-like atmosphere to the College and Career Center.