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Julissa Arce

Julissa Arce

Julissa Arce is the director of development at Define American, an organization that uses the “power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation around citizenship.”

Before coming to the United States, Arce had ideas of what defined American but quickly realized that the story she knew was incomplete. She left Mexico at age 11 and immigrated to San Antonio. An undocumented immigrant, Arce did not have the proper paperwork to attend college, and despite her academic prowess, she received rejection letter after rejection letter from colleges.

Her senior year, the state of Texas passed a provision that allowed undocumented students who had graduated high school in Texas to pay in-state tuition to Texas public universities. With the help of Rick Noriega, the sponsor of the bill, and his assistant, Linda Christofilis, Arce reached out to the University of Texas at Austin and was admitted one week before classes began. She attended the McCombs School of Business where she graduated cum laude with a degree in finance.

Arce built a successful career on Wall Street working at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch and had seemingly achieved the American Dream of wealth and status, and yet she was not part of what defined American. Arce asked herself, what if she defined American – a woman from Mexico who (while undocumented) achieved career success. Her story has been featured in ELLE magazine and other outlets.