Dora Tobar: The Homecoming Princess Who Left Home


Sarah Ekman, Contributor

Six years ago, a timid girl left her life in Guatemala to fulfill the American Dream in the United States. Although reminiscing about her homeland brings joy to her heart, it also reminds her of frightful times. Dora Tobar lives by the clichéd adage: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

After Dora’s very first birthday, her mother left Guatemala to start building a new life for their family in the United States. Dora’s older siblings were able to close their eyes and remember their mother’s face, but Dora spent 10 years in the dark, only able to piece together a hopeful image of her hero. 

In the early years of her childhood, Dora lived under her grandmother’s care. Sadly, her grandmother passed away when she was three. The heartbroken family found support again by their father. Dora’s father would not only teach her to make killer bread that they sold at their local bakery, but he would also later save her life as she suffered a severe illness in 2011. Unfortunately, her father suffered a tragic illness as well. He passed away in 2012, leaving Dora and her siblings to shuffle from one village to the next over the next year. 

She says, “I had to grow up at a young age because I didn’t have that support from my parents. It was sad sometimes to go to school and see the parents taking their child and not having my mom.” Dora learned how to adjust quickly to each new school. She was afraid of making friends because she knew making honest connections would just make the move harder. 

A year after her father’s passing, Dora’s mother decided to bring her children to the United States. Dora could barely contain herself as the thought of starting a new life and seeing her mother’s face was surreal. 

So, 10 years later Dora was finally going to meet her mother. When she arrived, two women stood in the distance, but she did not know who was her mother. Astonishingly, the familial connection trumped her doubt. Dora says, “I recognized her immediately. She is my mom.”

But the transition to America was far from easy. The first few nights following their arrival, the siblings slept on the living room floor of a shared apartment in San Rafael. Then, demanding owners forced them to find shelter elsewhere. Still, Dora was not too bothered. She had been accustomed to moving from place to place ever since she was born and now with her mother by her side, she felt hopeful. 

At first thought, most people would assume the language barrier would be the most difficult to adjust to when moving to a new country, but not for Dora. For her, it was the food. 

She says it was strange to see so much junk food and she still despises processed food to this day. Dora misses the real organic food rooted in the backyard of her home in Guatemala. No food here in America will ever be able to compete with the richness of that in her homeland. 

School was, and still is, extremely important to Dora. She told me, “If my parents gave up so much for me to give me a better life, I am not going to waste it.” 

If you mention the name “Tobar” to almost any San Rafael High School teacher, you are guaranteed to get smile and a list of compliments about her.

Mr. McSorley, a math teacher at SRHS, says, “It would be great if all students could be like her. She is polite, respectful and always wants to do her best.” Dora is a very committed student who truly cares for the material she learns and dedicates her own time outside of class to meet with her teachers to fully understand the material. 

Dora may not have known the English language a few years ago, but now it’s her absolute favorite subject. She doubled up on language classes, which is very intense in terms of building literacy skills. 

One of her prior English teachers, Mr. Simenstad, recalls, “Her ability to read and comprehend text just improved throughout the school year. She just stood out as an exemplary student, never complained, never tried to gain points, just tried to commit herself to whatever task she was doing. She is an extremely thoughtful person, exceedingly polite.” Dora constantly confronted any challenge with the best of intentions. 

One of her biggest and most exciting challenges was this past fall when she applied for SRHS’s Homecoming Court. After making the final cuts, Dora was paired with her homecoming prince, Walker Burdick. 

The two spent many hours crafting and rehearsing their skit that they would perform in front of the entire school. Walker says, “It was a lot of fun to make. Dora told me that she used to be super nervous, that she couldn’t even give class presentations. I’m impressed that this year she decided to apply to homecoming court and perform a skit in front of the whole school.”

On the Homecoming night Dora got dressed in her pink gown and put on her tiara, ready for a magical evening. Taylor Smith, one of the Homecoming announcers described her as a “Disney Princess.” 

Before finishing our interview, Dora said something that I will carry with me forever. “I left my home in Guatemala six years ago, but now I have a new home here in San Rafael.” 

Indeed, home is not always where we are born, but where we find our ourselves. To me and many others in the San Rafael community, Dora Tobar is the true embodiment of resilience.