UPDATE 8-16-2013: Garrido was just granted permanent residency in the United States and has been accepted into UTPA's Master in Information Technology program.
Alex Garrido (BS '10) was at The University of Texas-Pan American graduation ceremonies on Dec. 18, 2010 ready to pick up his bachelor's degree in psychology when he got word that the DREAM Act did not pass.
"I was devastated," said Garrido, a then aspiring lawyer and honor student who gave up his leadership position in student government to declare his undocumented status publically and went on a hunger strike to raise awareness for the cause. "While everyone else was smiling that they had their diploma, I thought 'this is useless. It is just a piece of paper and I can't do anything with it.'"
Garrido became depressed and went underground in Houston for awhile in fear of deportation. However, last month he returned to the University with a smile. Garrido is now a successful business owner and was invited to be the first instructor to present at UTPA's Continuing Education's "Lunch and Learn" series for professionals, where he gave a talk on his new passion - web design and internet marketing.
"I was so excited. I wasn't thinking about it but secretly I was hoping, 'maybe one day I can go back to the Valley,'" said Garrido, who presented on website search engine optimization.
While in Houston the past two years, Garrido was able to connect with a pro bono lawyer, who helped him get proper papers that are renewable each year. He also enrolled in a web design certification course at the University of Houston and started working for one of the largest web design firms in the city. Its owner saw his potential and took him under her wing.
"She had me read this, read that. She kept telling me, you can do it, you can do it. I learned all these skills and I got immersed in this world of internet marketing and digital marketing. It is so fresh, so new and emerging," Garrido said.
He co-founded Red Ant Digital, a digital marketing corporation, and more recently started his own web design firm Alexwebmaster. Garrido has two employees now and his clients include a hotel chain in California, a large realty firm in Austin as well as many small business owners. He is moving his base from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley, where he foresees expansive growth and increased need for the services he can provide.
Before the start of his "Lunch and Learn" presentation held at the McAllen Teaching Site, Garrido was given a warm embrace by UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. Nelsen shared Garrido's story with the class and talked about his continued support for the 645 undocumented students who attend UTPA.
"Alex now has his documents, he is contributing, he is paying taxes - he has his own company with two employees so the deferred action has made a big difference," Nelsen said. "I am very proud of him, just like I am proud of all of our Pan Am Students who go out, are starting businesses and making a difference and raising up the Valley."
Garrido, who could not work while in school and struggled to finance his education, said he felt blessed to have had the continued support from Nelsen and others at the University, including staff and faculty.
"When we were about to do the hunger strike, Dr. Nelsen got my personal telephone number, he called me in the middle of the night - like midnight - and asked me 'please don't do it.' He said, 'don't harm yourself, don't let others harm themselves,'" Garrido said. "That gave me a lot of hope. Other (undocumented) people in other states, they have to hide from University officials, they have to be secretive about their status."
Garrido, who struggled mentally and physically while undocumented and unable to work, said he's now in a position in life where he can be more relaxed.
"It's nice to relax and be able to live a more peaceful life, not having to work at midnight to make $20 a day," he said.
He said he hoped others could see that the contributions of immigrants to the United States go beyond the economic benefits.
"You can contribute to your nation by being the best you can be. One thing I know for sure from being part of the immigrant community in South Texas is that they are willing to give of themselves 100 percent with this passion, with this drive ... it goes to emotional, spiritual sometimes and intellectual leading to new ideas and innovation. I think I am an example of an inventive, very creative person and there are people even more creative than me in the Rio Grande Valley community but they were never given the chance," Garrido said.
Jayshree Bhat, director of UTPA's Continuing Education (CE), said she seeks out alumni who have developed specialized skills to teach the courses CE develops for the community. She said she was impressed with Garrido's expansive knowledge and the passion he brought to his students.
Garrido also impressed Edna Posada, owner of Spa la Posada. She attended the course with her two daughters to learn more about maintaining a quality and up-to-date website.
"I am aware of another man with similar circumstances and the challenges it presents. It saddens me. I am here because my grandparents came across illegally," she said. "He is obviously extremely intelligent, very hard working, and driven ... I am amazed at this young man. I liked that he was brief, he explained it in layman's terms, he opened it to questions and he knew the answers. I would recommend him."
Garrido will give three more presentations in the Lunch & Learn Series: "Using Google Analytics to Understand Your Customers" on July 29; "Blogging to Generate Traffic on Your Website" on Aug. 23; and "Using Social Media Free to Increase Sales" on Sept. 20. Additional presentations by other instructors will be held July 12, Aug. 9 and Sept. 6. All sessions are noon-1:30 p.m. The workshops are open to the public and cost $20 per person which includes a box lunch.