Chicago Dreamer is funding her college education thanks to her small-but-bustling tamale stand

When she was kid, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient Elizeth Argüelles not only used to get up at 3:30 in the morning to help her mom prepare tamales, but she would also go out and help her sell them, working until it was time for school. Her peers then turned school into another chore. 

“I used to get bullied a lot for not speaking English right or for the way I dressed,” she said. “Other children called her tamalera—one who makes and sells tamales,” the Chicago Tribune reported. It would sometimes make her feel embarrassed about the work she did with her mom. But then something changed.

“In high school, I started to realize how my mom was just a business owner,” she said. “I would see my mom struggling to push her cart through the snow and if she can do that, who am I not to try or seek solutions?” Now 23 years old, her earnings from the tamales “allowed Argüelles to pay for community college tuition at Morton College in 2014. They’re now helping her pay tuition at Dominican University, from which she expects to graduate in 2020.” She also works part-time as a youth career guide. 

“I’m very proud of her,” mom Claudia Perez said, “Very proud.” Perez told the Chicago Tribune that when she first decided years ago to sell tamales, her husband was skeptical of how successful she could be. Perez used her savings—$1,000—to buy her first batch of ingredients. “I feel very proud,” she said, “because I never imagined I would accomplish any of this … that my daughter would go to a university. So I feel very proud. I know that everything is possible.”

Immigrant families face significant hurdles due to legal status, but they are also resilient. They have to be in order to survive. “More than anything,” Argüelles said, “I would like to tell her that it has been a blessing to be a tamalera and to be the daughter of a tamalera, because I have resistance running through my veins, and it doesn’t only come from the tamales, but also from the woman my mother is.”

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