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Claudia Tepox: Dreamer, Runner, Inspiration, Patriots Fan

11/21/2017

Claudia Tepox is a junior majoring in pre-med/biology and minoring in chemistry. Such a major is impressive, but when you meet Claudia, you will see that just about everything about her is impressive.

She was born in Puebla, Mexico, and has been in the United States since she was two years old. Before she arrived, her father and uncle came to the United States to stay with other family members who were American citizens and to get a life set up for the family. Then Claudia and her siblings, along with her mother “came through a chain” to this country, she says. However, soon after her arrival, her mother and father were deported, and were apart from Claudia for six months. 

Her father had come to this country when he was 15 years old and saw the numerous opportunities for a better life. The economy in Puebla was “horrible,” according to Claudia. To make matters worse, there is no free public education in Puebla, so many people there are not educated. Her father wanted to give his family the best chance for a good life. 

Another reason her family came to America was that Claudia was literally born with two left feet. She needed surgery and the United States was the best place for it. Claudia’s family couldn’t afford the surgery on their own, but her extended family pooled money together for the surgery (which she had at age three) as well as corrective boots to align her gait.

Today, she is on the cross country and track and field teams for Cumberland University. She has received an academic award from the Mid-South Conference and has been on the All Mid-South Conference Second Team several times. She is thankful that Cross Country Coach Jim Seckel recruited her. 

“Cumberland University has honestly been a blessing in my life. I had never heard of it until Coach Seckel talked to me at Hillsboro High School. I never thought I would be on a team either — especially a team full of women. My teammates are very supportive. We share our struggles over classes and cry together,” says Claudia with a smile.

If there is one person on campus who likely does know everybody, it would be Claudia, as she is president of the Student Government Association. She also recently represented the junior class on the Homecoming Court. 

Post-graduation from CU, she wants to go to medical school to become a cardiac surgeon --- a dream that is achievable because her family has prospered through employment and education. Her parents are both chefs and her father is also a manager at Burger Up and Sperry’s Steakhouse. In fact, her family owns the building that houses Sperry’s in Nashville. Her older sister earned a master’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University and is a Spanish teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Nashville. Her younger brother is still in high school. 

Claudia had an older brother who made the decision to join the United States military. He did it because he loved this country, and if he completed his military commitment, he and Claudia and their family would become legal American citizens. However, her brother was killed in Afghanistan in the line of duty. A bullet nicked a major artery. Claudia says that losing her brother this way is what inspired her to want to become a cardiac surgeon.

Because her brother did not technically complete his military obligation, her family was not able to become legal citizens. Claudia and her family went through a depression and suffered financial difficulties as a result, but they did not become bitter. They are respectful of this country.

“My parents are upfront about their citizenship status. They have always told their bosses. I am upfront as well. I just pray and believe that everything will work out and we can stay,” she says.

The DACA program has been rescinded by President Trump and the threat of deportation looms over hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” like Claudia who entered this country before the age of 16 and who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 and were never convicted of a felony. 

“My parents say, ‘never fight fire with fire.’ We don’t protest. Stay humble because you’re in a better place. Actions speak louder than words.” She continues, “Life does get tough. You have to be that person who takes a step forward or get behind. Take every opportunity you can.”   

Claudia encourages other Cumberland students who are here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to not hide and to share their stories. By being open with people, you might change their mind, she reasons.

Claudia also draws strength from her brother’s memory, knowing how fearless he was and how much he also wanted the best for his family. He was stationed in Boston and the New England Patriots were his favorite football team. Naturally, it’s Claudia’s favorite team too. Before every one of Claudia’s races, she puts on her brother’s New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski #87 jersey.

Undoubtedly her brother would be proud of his little sister’s accomplishments and courage.

“I’m scared every day about being deported. I have to remind myself not to live with so much fear that it overpowers me. I don’t want my dreams to be crushed. I would never crush someone else’s dreams.”

Claudia says that fewer than 10 people who are not legal citizens have made it into medical school in Tennessee. Realizing her dream of becoming a cardiac surgeon will be one more impressive feat of Claudia Tepox.