Rosa Elena Calleja Gómez was born on May 6th, 1978 in Mexico in the city of Izucar de Matamoros, Puebla. When she was a child her parents were divorced and she and her four siblings were separated into many houses. Rosa’s two eldest siblings went to live with her father and her two younger siblings stayed with her in their grandmother’s home, while Rosa’s mother immigrated to the United States to make money to send back to her family in Mexico. Rosa was immediately called upon to grow up at an early age, forced by circumstance to care for her younger siblings and her grandmother, who was sick for an extended period of time. Rosa learned to cook, clean, keep house and manage money and had to assume the mother role in the family, all before she was a teenager.
Rosa finished elementary school before she was called upon to be the breadwinner in the family, but she couldn't start secondary school because her family did not have enough money for her education and when she was thirteen years old, she had to get her first job, working at a chocolate factory making chocolate bars, as well as working at a restaurant in the kitchen.
After several years of struggling to save money and make the best for her family and herself Rosa and her siblings moved to the United States of America. Rosa was fifteen at the time and as soon as she arrived in the Bronx, she began working as a house cleaner and at a clothing factory: folding, packing, and sewing. Rosa wasn't able to study because she had to work in order to help her mother pay the bills. When Rosa turned 18 years old, she was married and two years later she had a daughter named Jennifer. It was at this time that she applied for US citizenship and on January of 2001, she became a citizen of the United States and three months later her husband became a resident of the United States.
In 2002 Rosa decided that it was time to return to school and begin her education journey again, the one that had been interrupted when she was 11 years old and she worked hard and earned her Pre-GED Diploma from a free program for adults named: Centro Social “La Esperanza”. She continued to pursue her education by taking ESL classes, computer classes and GED classes. In June of 2003, her second child, Christopher was born, but she says that she did not let her pregnancy or anything else interfere with her pursuit of her education. In May of 2009, Rosa earned a GED diploma and she had accomplished her first educational dream, which allowed her to take the next step to go to college and in August of 2009, Rosa became a Hostos Community College student.
In 2010, Rosa became a member of the Hostos Student Leadership Academy as a member of the Student Orientation Services (SOS) Team, a group of dedicated students leaders who have made it a priority to serve the rich and diverse population that is the student body at Hostos Community College by providing them with volunteer support from admissions seminars, to new student orientations, to campus tours, to registration and beyond. Rosa excelled in the SOS Team Program, because of her generosity and kind support of students who had similar stories to hers. Her ability to communicate with a rich variety of students made her a favorite volunteer at many of the activities listed above.
Last year, Rosa was determined to get more involved in school and in the Academy. Her dedication led her to raise her GPA and also allowed her to participate in a wide-variety of community service activities; volunteering with the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities in the Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy, beautifying Mill Pond Park on Earth Day as part of the Hostos 45th Anniversary Day of Service, singing Christmas Carols to displaced seniors at the Chinatown Senior Citizen Center, taking orders and packing nutritious bags of food at the Yorkville Common Pantry in upper-Manhattan, walking to support those with HIV/AIDS at AIDS Walk NYC and still volunteering to help out students on the Hostos campus.
Rosa says that her proudest moment last year, was when she went to the visit Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy. She assisted one family by helping them to remove their belongings from a flooded basement. Rosa felt like a hero, just by taking a few hours out of her life and dedicating it to one family in a time when they needed it.
Rosa was also invested in making change in another way. By participating in the weekly workshop series, she learned the value of having a voice in the political arena and she decided that this would be the next step that she would take in her education outside of the classroom and she participated in the National Model United Nations in Washington, D.C., where she was one of ten students who represented Italy and received recognition from the awards panel. She also attend the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus Conference in Albany, where she had the chance to talk to regional and local politicians about significant issues facing the students and families who make up the community that is Hostos Community College.
One of the issues that Rosa is passionate about is the Dream Act and she not only spoken to local political figures about this issue, but she broached the subject at a Dream Act conference last spring, and continues to work on getting the attention of the powers that be, to get the Dream Act enacted.
Even through Rosa was recently separated from her husband, and challenges began to mount in her life, she never gave up as a mother or as a student. She was a candidate for Student Government last spring, she received her first scholarship (The Josephine Aguado Scholarship) and she was promoted to the Hostos Student Leadership Academy’s Ambassador Program.
Now, Rosa’s dream is to become a lawyer. Two semesters ago, she was majoring in Paralegal Studies, but her activities as a representative voice of the students of Hostos has allowed her to reassess and she plans to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice and get a Bachelor’s Degree there.
Rosa is currently married, a mother of two children, sustaining a 3.3 GPA and a student in two honor classes. This fall Rosa will also be part of the Ernesto Malave CUNY Leadership Academy’s Student Investment Advocate’s (SIA) Program.
- amNewyork Newspaper (p. 3)