Turning a new land into new opportunities has become old hat to Karla and Mariana Lopez-Owens.
The two sisters, both IUPUI graduate students, came to the United States at ages 8 and 7, respectively, traveling from Mexico with their mother, Micaela, and older sister Claudia (then 9), when Micaela realized the few dollars she earned as a single mother each month was not enough to sustain her family. A trip that started in December 1999 led to the U.S. in January 2000, and eventually to Indiana.
The journey required the family to cross the border into the United States; they were captured once by the Border Patrol and sent back, but tried again later one night. This time, a series of safe houses, nights spent sleeping under abandoned vehicles and meals consisting of orange drink and vanilla cookies led to North Carolina and their brother’s home.
For a time, Micaela worked on an assembly line preparing turkeys for sale in grocery stores, but she had bigger dreams. So the family set out for Indianapolis, where Micaela planned to work with her sister in hotel housekeeping.
By 2002, life began to resemble the dream the four had shared, especially when, after going to work for Washington Township Schools as a janitor, Micaela met and married Gary Owens, a pivotal point in their lives. He adopted the three girls, leading to their gaining U.S. citizenship and legal status. The family supported the Lopez-Owens sisters as they graduated from North Central High School and entered college.
Education continues to be a cornerstone of their dream. Claudia attends Ivy Tech Community College while still working full time. She hopes one day to become a teacher, with Ball State University as a primary choice, though her sisters still harbor hopes of recruiting her to become the third Lopez-Owens student at IUPUI.
Karla earned a bachelor’s degree in civic leadership last May from the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI, prior to entering the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Mariana earned two bachelor’s degrees—one in international studies and the other in Spanish from the School of Liberal Arts in December—and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the Teaching of Spanish program, also from the School of Liberal Arts. Last spring, she was named the Top Female Student at IUPUI during the Top 100 Student Recognition Dinner.
Their accomplishments have been remarkable, but they credit their mother with being their inspiration.
“I think she was trying to escape a desperate situation of living in poverty and in a cycle of violence, as many immigrants coming to America are,” said Karla, who, in addition to going to law school, also serves as a legal assistant in the Kevin Munoz Law Firm in Indianapolis.
“Our mother continues to instill in us values tied closely to resilience and innovative solutions,” added Mariana. “She silences anyone who says something can’t be done, and supports us by allowing us room to pursue any dream we have.”