1604050032_DannyFulgencio_CamilaMelero_LHC42Girl Power

Though she has been in the United States since she was an infant, Camila Melero is proud of her Mexican roots. That can be tough, she admits, in a world where hundreds of thousands of Americans support presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Camila is on the student council and a member of the Young Republicans. In club meetings her peers openly discuss support for Trump and his promise to build a massive wall he says will help keep undocumented Mexican immigrants from entering our country.

It sometimes hurts, she says. It is hard to not take it personally.

“Trump doesn’t like Mexicans, and my family is all Mexicans,” she says. “My mom has her own business and pays taxes. She never had welfare. I don’t think a wall should be built up and I don’t think Trump should talk about people like he does.”

Camila — who is intelligent and glamorously nerdy in dark-rimmed glasses over deep, observant, long-lashed eyes — shrugs most of it off. She has her sights set on more controllable things. In quick, clipped sentences she describes her plan to become a coder and work for Apple, though “Google would be OK too,” she says.

“I had a lot of problems growing up so I grew a pretty thick skin,” she says. “I try not to stress about those things I can’t do anything about.”

The hardest time of her life, she says, was during her sophomore year, when her mother had to travel to Mexico to “deal with immigration-status issues.”

“I was basically alone my whole sophomore year, making sure my sister is OK.”

Her sister was in eighth grade at the time and Camila had to act as mom despite her young age. She worried about her sister, she says, because the women in her family had a history of alcohol abuse. She knew her sister was nearing an age of temptation and needed a role model.

“I’ve seen in my family how alcohol can ruin lives. It starts as a game and then it takes your life.”

She says her family’s problems were rooted in alcoholism. Her mom, who had drinking problem, is recovering.

But while she tried to be there for her sister, who was there for her?

“I felt really lonely without my mom, because my mom is my best friend.”

Her stepfather was in charge, but he was always gone at work or elsewhere, she says. She only saw her biological father once a month, she says.

“When you don’t have a parent around, choosing to come to school, especially in elementary school and junior high, can be hard. I am proud of myself for being motivated to succeed and make it through all of my education, through senior year.”

Camila Melero Class of 2016 at Lake Highlands High School, photo by Danny Fulgencio

Camila not only made it through that and subsequent years, she thrived, remaining on the academic honor roll and playing forward on the girls soccer team. Her teacher Rebecca Wood says she feels lucky to know Camila. “I think she is inspirational because she refuses to be defined by where she comes from, but instead focuses on where she is going,” Wood says. “She also is a great friend to all of her peers who count on her for advice, laughs, and support.”

The day of our interview, she is decidedly giddy. “Tonight is senior night. It’s our last home game and the night where the seniors are recognized. I’ve been waiting for it for four years.”

Read more about the Class of 2016