Julissa Arce is cofounder and chairman of Ascend Educational Fund, a college scholarship and mentorship program for immigrants, and a board member of the National Immigration Law Center. Previously, she was an executive at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.
Worth spoke with Arce about her book, My (Underground) American Dream, for a piece published in the August-September 2016 New America issue.
Q: You had to use fake documents to work at Goldman Sachs. How did you handle the fear of exposure?
A: Denial. I put my immigration status in a mental closet and most days forgot about it. The pressure of standing out at Goldman Sachs was more than the pressure of worrying about my papers.
Q: What did financial success mean to you?
A: I believed if I achieved financial success I could figure out a way to fix my immigration status. I thought money could solve my problems. That was part of my motivation to succeed at Goldman Sachs, where I wanted to become the first woman Hispanic partner. That was my goal—to crack that glass ceiling. I later realized that was not what I wanted to do with my life.
Q: You are now a U.S. citizen, but you left Wall Street and call it a “golden cage.” Why?
A: I had a beautiful life with a lot of opportunity and success… But it was still a cage because I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t even get on an airplane to fly and see my father when he was dying. In the end, the money didn’t matter because I couldn’t be with my family when they needed me—all because of my paperwork.