California State University, Los Angeles

Mario Giron-Ábrego (2012)

My First Generation Story

I am a Guatemalan immigrant and the first one in my family to pursue a university education. My interest in Maya archaeology began as a childhood dream in Guatemala. I grew up in the midst of a 36-year-long civil war that tarnished the country with violence, crime and poverty. As an escape to this reality, I spent many afternoons witnessing archaeological excavations at Kaminaljuyú, a site located only a few blocks from my neighborhood. I remember how I marveled at the archaeologists’ work. I told myself that I wanted to be like them when I grew up. I was further encouraged by a caring grandfather, an Italian immigrant, who grew up in the Department of El Quiché speaking Qatzijob'al and Kaqchikel Maya languages as well as Spanish and Italian. I became fascinated by the Maya and I read all I could find about this ancient civilization.

At age 14, I immigrated to the United States in hopes of finding a better future. My cousin and I survived a two-month odyssey through Mexico, with no money, to arrive in California. During these first years, I struggled with financial difficulties, learning English and assimilating into American society. I was, however, excited by the educational opportunities and excelled in high school. I was determined to pursue college and had learned that the Anthropology department at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) offered archaeological field schools in the Maya area. I knew that this was the ideal place where I could fulfill my dream. I was accepted to CSULA, but was classified as a foreign student and did not qualify for financial aid. I could not afford out-of-state tuition, so my dream had to be postponed.

For four years, I worked multiple jobs to save enough to pay for immigration fees, and waited patiently for a permanent resident permit. When my permanent residence was granted, I was reaccepted to CSULA and I appreciated the opportunity I was given. This was immediately reflected in my grades, as I made the Dean’s List in both 2005 and 2006. Additionally, the faculty members were extremely supportive and allowed me to attend graduate seminars even as an undergraduate.

The pivotal experience came when Dr. James Brady noticed my dedication in his class on Maya civilization and invited me to work on the Midnight Terror Cave Project, a site featured in The Discovery Channel’s series, Bone Detectives. I was the only student to work all three years of the project. I am now considering a move into a doctoral program. My professional commitment to archaeology and academia has also been supported through numerous scholarships and fellowships.

Eventually, I want to teach and become a mentor at a university. I feel that my background would help me spot the type of students who are too often overlooked, especially those who are first in their families to pursue a college degree. I cannot imagine a more rewarding calling than being able to pursue my intellectual quests, while helping students pursue their dreams at the same time. Today, I feel incredibly fortunate because I see my future taking shape before my eyes.

About the Student

Mario Giron Abrego - small

Mario Giron-Ábrego is a graduate student studying anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Student Stats

Name: Mario Giron-Ábrego (2012)
Age: 28
Year in School: Graduate Student
Major: Anthropology – Archaeology option
Favorite Course: Maya Civilization, Material Culture, Academic Writing and Publishing
Dream Job: Director of archaeological project in the Maya area

About the School

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Cal State L.A. has been a dynamic force in the education of students, setting a record of outstanding academic achievement for more than 50 years within the California State University system and beyond. Here, students, taught by nationally and internationally-recognized scholars in their fields, have gone on to become the nation's legislators, technicians, educators, artists, writers, engineers, healthcare providers, leaders in business and industry, entertainers, athletes and scientists.

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