It's graduation season and at Desert Hot Springs High School, a young teen originally from Mexico who spent several months detained by border authorities is preparing to receive his diploma next month.
Hugo Uriostegui Apolinar is counting down the days until his graduation ceremony on June 22. The 19-year-old says he is overwhelmed with emotions.
“It is something that I never imagined achieving since I am the first person in my family to achieve it, and even more so here in this country,” said Apolinar.
His path to academic success has been paved with many barriers.
Apolinar arrived from Mexico in March 2022 and wasted no time in starting his studies when he could.
“Sometimes I was sad because there were people who only speak English and you feel bad,” Apolinar said.
His issues with the language weren't the only hurdle he would face this school year.
Apolinar shares that when he crossed the border seeking political asylum, he was detained because the authorities thought he was older than he really was.
“I was dying to see my family, hug them, at least see them on video,” Apolinar said.
While studying Hugo was also dealing with unpleasant memories of where he was detained for almost half a year. He was detained in Texas for two months, then in a juvenile facility in Arizona. Amid the threat of deportation, Apolinar received the good news that his brother had asked him to come live in California.
“I was there for a while, they told me that they were going to join me with my family, but I thought it would be with my family from Mexico,” said Apolinar.
At Desert Hot Springs High School, the student from Morelos, Mexico, vowed to do what it took to graduate.
With the help of classmates and teachers, Apolinar was able to complete his classes mostly taught in English. And through soccer, he was able to gradually overcome the fear of speaking English.
“I no longer feel scared when people speak to me, I already speak to them, I have friends who speak to them in English,” Apolinar said.
And as his political asylum case winds through the system, he remains hopeful that this country will become his forever home.
“I would say that I don't have the opportunities like here since life in Mexico is very difficult,” he said.
The young man says that he misses his parents and he thanks all the teachers at Desert Hot Springs High School who have supported him.