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Student speaker Ana Cruz shares her path to pharmacy and activism
By Grant Burningham / Thu Oct 19, 2017
Ana Cruz knew, when she was very young, exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up, she told the UCSF doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) Class of 2021 at their White Coat ceremony.
She wanted the same job as the woman in white.
Now, Cruz is a PharmD student in the Class of 2018, and was the student speaker at the event, held Friday, October 13, in Cole Hall on the Parnassus campus.
Cruz was 12 years old when her five-year-old sister was diagnosed with a rare case of childhood arthritis. Cruz’s parents are immigrants, and English isn’t their first language, so she had to translate for them as she tried hard to understand what was happening and what it all meant for her sister.
There was one place Cruz did find answers. “The first time we got medication, there was a woman in white behind the counter, and she took the time to talk to me—about what the medicine was and what made my sister sick,” Cruz recalled. “She made me feel empowered. It was a simple act, but it let me know my sister was getting help.”
Cruz researched what the woman’s job was. Pharmacist, she discovered. Tangled in the google results with “pharmacy,” UCSF kept popping up. Now she had a plan.
“It’s always been my dream to go here. Even as an undergrad, I went into school knowing that,” Cruz said. She worked hard in high school and was accepted to UC Berkeley, a school tantalizingly close to UCSF.
Undocumented, but undaunted
But there’s another part of Cruz’s story. She arrived in the U.S. without papers, before she was even a year old.
Being undocumented was draining. “I was constantly in fear, and aware of things I could and couldn’t do," Cruz said. That often meant not participating in school events.
“I would hear negative comments from classmates, saying people should ‘go home’. I felt like I was home.”
It also meant that attending Berkeley right away was out of the question because she couldn't qualify for most financial aid. “I realized I would have to apply myself to make it here,” she said.
Cruz went to a community college instead, but didn’t give up on her goal. Two years later, she transferred to UC Irvine.
“People would say I would never make it this far,” she said. “I knew who I was. I wasn’t going to let other people define me.”
Along the way she got married, which meant she got her residency documents. She was also admitted to the UCSF School of Pharmacy.
Becoming an activist for DACA and the undocumented
On one of her first days on campus, during an orientation event about diversity, she felt so comfortable that she decided to tell her whole story. It was the first time she had publicly revealed who she was and where she was from.
“I’ll never forget it,” said Cynthia Watchmaker, MEd, MBA, associate dean of student affairs. “She just started talking and telling us who she was, and we were in tears.”
After a lifetime of learning to be inconspicuous, Cruz found a calling on campus as an activist, championing students who are undocumented. She co-founded Graduate and Professional Dream Advocates (GAPDA), a group that works to support and advocate for undocumented graduate and professional students.
The group has screened films about being undocumented in America, hosted artists, and provided advice for students.
UCSF graduate and professional schools welcome applications from all students, regardless of their immigration status. In addition, California laws, such as Assembly Bill (AB) 540, allow some undocumented students who attended high school in California to pay in-state tuition at California public universities. Until recently, many students were protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012.
However, earlier this year President Donald Trump rescinded DACA protections, leaving 800,000 young people nationally—and many UCSF students and workers—unprotected or in a legal limbo. University of California President Janet Napolitano has promised to continue to protect these students and has sued the Trump administration, claiming the repeal of DACA was unlawful.
Meanwhile, the University of California Immigrant Legal Services Center, operating out of the UC Davis School of Law, is answering questions about the law and giving legal advice to students.
Cruz is hopeful that there will be a resolution restoring DACA nationally, but for now she offers support and community to undocumented students on campus.
The most important message for these students, Cruz said, is that they shouldn’t give up. “Other students want to know my story. They want to know how I did it. They want to know if it’s possible for them to do it. They have the passion, but it’s hard when you hear so many negative comments. I tell them to keep pushing through.”
She’s managed to be a brave and vocal activist while balancing the demands of her school work and of her chosen profession. “Both pharmacy school and activism are very time consuming and rigorous,” she said, “but I have the passion, so it doesn't feel like work.”
“The opportunities are endless”
As for her dream of a UCSF education, “It’s more than I ever expected it to be,” Cruz said.
“When I was younger, I barely knew what pharmacy was. My understanding was that it was just people behind the counter. But pharmacists can be in so many amazing places. The opportunities are endless.”
Cruz hopes to do a residency after she graduates, combining further clinical training and research.
“UCSF has a very big place in my heart. I expected to meet some smart people—but they’ve been the most open, kind people I’ve ever met.”
Earlier this year the group that Cruz started, GAPDA, brought the visual artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez to campus to lead an art workshop and a discussion of the role of art in activism.
One of the images that Rodriguez employs in her work is the monarch butterfly, a creature that ranges from Canada across the United States to Mexico and back, on a complicated and harrowing multi-generational trip. The words below the butterfly read: Migration is Beautiful.
When she sees the image from time to time—on campus and off—Cruz knows she’s found another ally.
Cruz has managed to juggle an incredibly demanding school schedule with activism and advancement in her chosen career. On Friday, she promised the incoming class their efforts would pay off.
“Don’t forget what brought you here,” she said. “You can become that man or woman in white.”
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.