SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — This week’s Students Rising Above scholar has achieved amazing academic success here in the United States. Now she is headed to England, inspired by her family’s journey and her own love of some very special literary characters.

Alondra Vázquez López grew up reading — and loving — the Harry Potter book series. The stories often provided an escape for Vazquez Lopez as a little girl living in a sometimes very scary world.

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“[For] kids like myself where a lot of the burden sort of was…put on us to navigate the Anglo world as I’ve called it, Harry Potter just provided a nice refuge to imagine and relate to Harry in some form,” explained Vázquez López.

The Anglo world Vázquez López describes is her family’s journey to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants and their experiences here. Her mom is from Guatemala, and her father is from Mexico. Both wanted the best for their future children in a country that didn’t always embrace them.

“Immigration enforcement, family members who have been in detention centers in orange jumpsuits and handcuffed,” recalled Vázquez López. “You could see the sadness in their faces and their reactions to seeing their own children and their wives, and the other people who had gone to visit them.”

All images a young Vázquez López saw firsthand when she visited undocumented family members in detention. Those experiences led the now 22-year-old Marin County college senior to write her own story as part of the application process for a very special scholarship. It’s a story that describes a young woman who’s the first in her family to go to a prestigious four-year college: Yale.

And now England. Vázquez López has been selected to be a Rhodes Scholar and will be headed to Oxford this fall, where she plans on graduating with not one but two masters degrees, both focused on migrant studies.

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Vázquez López is one of only 32 students selected from the entire United States for this very special honor. It was welcome news that was emotional for Vázquez López and her parents.

“It was crazy. I thought I had misheard my name,” recalled Vázquez López of when she first heard the news. “I called my parents afterwards, just bawling, crying trying to explain to them in Spanish what the Rhodes Scholarship was. And then I explained that it was where they filmed Harry Potter.”

Now this Harry Potter fan is excited to study in England where her beloved characters also went to school, their stories still meaningful to the adult she has become.

“Dreaming that there can be good and [that] we all exist in the joyful universe that doesn’t have any constraints,” said Vázquez López of her upcoming adventure.

Vázquez López points out that while she loves the Harry Potter novels she does not agree with author J.K. Rowling’s stance on some issues, specifically those surrounding the trans community.

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As for her future plans, Vázquez López hopes to go to law school after she finishes at Oxford. She is also a talented artist, and says as a self-described “first generation Mexican-Guatemalan born in the U.S.,” her artwork is a personal way to document the immigrant experience.

Michelle Griego