Santiago Potes Becomes First Latino DACA Rhodes Scholar

Santiago Potes, who was born in Colombia, has made history becoming the first Latino DACA recipient to win the Rhodes scholarship

Santiago Potes

Photo: Columbia College/S. Potes

Santiago Potes, who was born in Colombia, has made history becoming the first Latino DACA recipient to win the Rhodes scholarship. On Saturday, the Rhodes Trust announced that Potes, a 2020 graduate of Columbia University in New York, would be one of the 2021 Rhodes Scholars. He arrived in the U.S. when he was 4 years old, born to teenage parents, and credits his elementary school teacher Marina Esteva for going the extra mile for him. “My parents didn’t go to college. My parents had me when they were 16 years old. So, she really became kind of like my first mother figure actually. She went out of her way to teach me a rigorous education,” Potes told CNN.

Beyond his educational success, Potes is a violinist —  he’s been in the Columbia University Orchestra since freshman year —and fluent, or near fluent, in nine languages, including Chinese. “He is so complete. He’s a well-rounded human being,” Esteva told CNN. “With the highest moral caliber, with a sense of justice, with a sense of what is excellence, and willing to sacrifice for excellence, not for show, but for excellence itself.”

Potes was born in Cali, Colombia, and his family moved to Miami when he was three years old, Colombia College Today reports. Esteva is a Cuban refugee and immigrant to the United States and said it means even more to have teacher and student both Latino immigrants and refugees, two generations of opportunity and success in the United States, CNN reports.

“I wish there were a larger national conversation about how important elementary school teachers specifically are,” Potes said. He told CNN that he would not have reached this level of success if Esteva had not told him from an early age that she believed he could do great things.

In their announcement, the Rhodes Trust wrote, “Santiago has been a teaching or research assistant for leading professors in physics, philosophy, social psychology, and neuroscience, and won numerous college prizes for leadership as well as academic performance. He is widely published on legal issues relating to DACA status, was one of the DACA recipients featured in a brief filed with the Supreme Court to preserve DACA.”

Potes will study contemporary East Asia and international politics at Oxford University with plans to potentially work in national security in the United States. His program will begin in October 2021.

“I am silent in gratitude and reflection, and I look forward to moving to Oxford next year,” he said in the Rhodes announcement.

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