A beautiful struggle: Elisa Cardenas


Tri Tran

HCC student Elisa Cardenas’ faith motivates her to pursue her dreams to serve those less fortunate.

“I came from a broken home. I really didn’t have guidance. My parents never really got along, and so me and my sister suffered in-between,” recalled Elisa Cardenas, who experienced homelessness at 17.

Growing up, “I felt like I didn’t have a place in the world—an identity to actually call my own.”

“I’ve been through a lot of life experiences that have kind of broken me down as a person, but I never lost hope, and I never lost any of my beliefs and be like those who had the guidance.”

Despite not having guidance, Cardenas says “I always yearned to go to school and be somebody because I knew that was the key to be successful, and people will look at you in a better light.”

Cardenas is half Peruvian and half Italian, a first-generation American, and a first generation college student at Houston Community College.

Although Cardenas comes from a Christian background, she explains that, “Through my journey, I found God and I chose Islam…it has actually let me to where I am today because Islam encourages you to seek knowledge. I felt like I was blessed to be given the opportunity to enter school despite my struggles.”

Cardenas says that she always tells herself that, “It’s OK to have struggles, but it’s not OK to give up at all.”

“When I became Muslim, my whole world changed,” reflects Cardenas, “I’m just thankful to God that he’s giving me what he’s giving me right now and I just hope in the future that God blesses me to actually be a difference to other people. To help those that are in suffering because I have been through that. And without service to other people, my degree doesn’t mean anything—at all.”

Cardenas plans to become a dentist. “In my future, I’m not just looking to start a practice. I’m looking to service those who are less fortunate.”

She wants to start a non-profit organization called Bishallah Smiles. She explained that it would have a team of specialists who would service people in poverty-stricken areas.

“I have big dreams, and I hope that God will see me through and put me in a place to be a service to people,” says Cardenas, “for me it’s really important to have that so I can enter heaven.”

Her husband is also an HCC student studying political science. They recently welcomed a four-month-old daughter.

“She’s been a blessing and a joy,” says Cardenas, “She is just another reason for me to continue to have inspiration; to be able to provide for her and to show her things that I was never able to experience: love, mercy, guidance, encouragement to seek knowledge.”

“No one can see my face actually when I go to school,” she wears a veil which covers her entire face except for her eyes.

“When I wear my Niqab,” Cardenas laughs, “people assume that I’m part of ISIS, but I’m really not. I cover myself because God says a woman should preserve her beauty for her husband, and that’s what I do. It separates all misconceptions of men looking at me wrong or trying to be attracted to me.”

“My husband is the one to be blessed to see me.” However, Cardenas explained that her husband, “doesn’t make me cover my face. I chose to cover it.”

When people are quick to judge based on her Niqab, Cardenas says “I always encourage people to seek knowledge. Question everything that you know, because if you don’t you could always be in the wrong. I encourage people to not only ask questions, but if you happen to be the one to ask, to read about it. Have an open dialogue with people that you’re curious about or that unsure of. Know truth, that’s what Islam tells us.”

Cardenas is a full-time, active student at HCC. She is involved with the HCC Model U.N. organization, a member of the International Student Chamber of Commerce and a member of the STEM Club at Northwest. She was also just invited to join two honor societies: Phi Theta Kappa and The National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

“It’s been really a unique experience being involved in those organizations, and it shapes your focus. Those types of organizations give me an opportunity to actually pinpoint what you want to do with yourself,” says Cardenas, “I’m excited to be a part of HCC, and I hope that people in the future are encouraged to get into those societies.”