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Napa Scholar's Fighting Spirit Has Her Overcoming All Obstacles

by Jennifer Mistrot and Michelle Griego

NAPA (CBS SF) -- Claudia Yanet Garcia has learned not to let anyone or anything hold her back; it's a can-do spirit that shines through in every part of her life, especially when she steps into the ring.

The 21-year-old is a seasoned black belt in taekwondo, and the sport showcases her confidence. On a recent weekend she sparred with Francisco Matias, owner of Matias Martial Arts in Napa.

"She was always a very dedicated student," said Matias. "We have always kind of seen her trying everything that she wants to do."

"I am such an extrovert," explained Garcia. "I love going out and talking to people and meeting new people. My mom and I went on a walk this morning and every single person we see, it's, 'Hey, how are you? How's it going? God bless you! Have a wonderful day.'"

The warm greetings are for the North Bay community they've embraced. When Garcia was a baby her mother brought her to the United States with hopes of a better life, leaving their entire extended family in Mexico behind.

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"It's too many emotions, you know?" recalled Maria de los Angeles Garcia of that time. "It is very scary mostly when you come in for yourself and your children."

Claudia was just two years old when she crossed the border. Too young to remember, she wouldn't learn she was undocumented until grade school.

"I went to a charter school, so then they were going to offer us a trip to Washington D.C., and I couldn't take it," recalled Garcia. "I had the opportunity to go and learn about the country that I live in and that spent all my time in but I couldn't take it."

That canceled trip may have been one of that last times anyone's held her back. Garcia graduated from Cal Poly SLO early, packing her schedule with volunteer teaching, translating and interpreting, and other non-profit work.

She also published several essays about her journey as a DACA student. Along the way she connected to a new community filled with young people just like her.

"So many inspirational stories," said Garcia about other students' DACA experiences. "And everyone is super powerful."

But it's her relationship with her mother that brings her comfort and stability.

"This is my best friend," said Garcia. "This is who I call every day."

Garcia is working towards medical school and surgery is her specialty of choice. So it's no surprise she picked a sport like taekwondo, one that fuels her drive to succeed. And one that keeps her kicking, mostly hands-free.

"I pick really difficult things to learn and I love learning," she explained. "I think it's ironic. I think I have been saving my hands for my profession."

Claudia says her passion for medicine was ignited when she volunteered as an interpreter at a local hospital that serves a large Spanish-speaking population. She says she saw how grateful patients were when she helped them communicate with the doctors there.

Serving others is a future dream Garcia's mother also shares with her daughter.

"Every day I say thanks God, and I tell [Claudia] it's her life," said an emotional Maria de los Angeles. "It's her dreams. But at the same time, it's my dreams."




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