What do I breathe that others don’t? What does my heart pump that doesn’t run in the veins of others? What is my flesh made of that makes it illegal and almost inferior to the “citizens” of this country? Until this day, I have not discovered any biological explanations that justify the social displacement that I encounter in every day society. At the age of four years I left the country that gave me a nationality, a language and a home. Not knowing what our positions in life would look like, my parents had no option but to make their American dream, a car garage, which came to be our new home. As if risking their lives was not enough to provide me with a better future, my parents’ long days of intense labor acted as second catalyst in emphasizing the importance of pursuing a higher education. In spring of 2006, I was accepted to one of the most competitive institutions in the west, the University of California, Los Angeles.
Pursuing an educational career as an undocumented student in higher education was like jumping from a diving board into a pool without knowing if water was present. Coming in as a freshman I did not know whether I was going to be able accomplish the dream that I had been working towards since I first stepped into this country. Tuition was expensive. I did not have access to any type of job; the scholarships that I was eligible for I was not able to apply for because I did not have a 9 digit number that would allow me to take advantage of such opportunity. Moreover, the 36 thousand dollars a year that my parents make cumulatively would not meet the means of supporting a family of six and paying the education of their first college graduate. Since the resources where few, I had to look for private scholarships that did not required a social security and people who were willing to provide a listening ear and sometimes food and shelter. Though sleeping on the floor, not having enough food for the week and working extensively to pay for tuition was emotionally painful, having to leave the college campus without a Bachelors degree would have destroyed the only part of my identity that has not been defined by laws and societal standards. Therefore, the pain that I have endured has served as a self-realization factor that has made me aware of the need for educational policy that would (1) eradicate laws which create a glass ceiling to the achievement level of children in schools and (2) provide a pathway for postsecondary educational success for marginalized communities.
As a double major Political Science and Chicana/o Studies student with an emphasis on Education Studies Minor, I was able to link both my circumstance and my educational background as a resource to reframe policy and curriculum in education. During my 3 years of undergraduate schooling at UCLA, I directed two mentoring/ tutoring programs, one of which I helped establish at a local middle school. As a director, tutor and research analyst, I was able to contrive a curriculum that supplemented the students learning abilities as oppose to imposing one that did not have any association to the student’s character, social circumstance, or academic potentials. Moreover, by tutoring and mentoring students from grades K-9 twice a week for a period of 3 years, I was able to critically synthesize the disadvantages that are imposed by our educational system. One of these disadvantages is the poor budgeting crisis that not only affects our students, but also our educators. Hence, to get a better understanding of the impact that is created when an educator’s basic resources are taken away, during the 2008-09 academic year, I conducted a two quarter research through Educators for Tomorrow, a UCLA undergraduate research program. The many hours that I spent interviewing school administrators and teachers, as well as attending a series of United Teachers of Los Angeles campaign conferences, and measuring the academic performance of the 40 elementary students in Projecting Minds (Nora Sterry’s Elementary tutoring program) helped me discover my passion for educational policy making and the need to reconstruct societal frameworks that obstruct people from learning and achieving at their highest potential.
In spring of this current year, I was accepted to Columbia University’s masters program in Education Policy. Yet, because of my immigration status it is almost impossible to pursue this dream since I don’t have the resources to finance my education. Despite my vision for a better America and more than seventeen (17) years of living in this country, I have not been given the opportunity to become fully integrated as a citizen of this country. As a result, I cannot fully take use of the resources that would enable me to strengthen the educational systems that are hindering the potential of America’s respective leaders. Hence, it is of great significance that you vocalize the voice that many of us don’t have to advocate for Immigration Reform and the Federal DREAM ACT. The more time that we wait for this change to occur, the more damaged that is being done to the future of this country. Meanwhile, I will continue to hope and pray for a better tomorrow….a tomorrow that does not obstruct my liberties as a human or imprisons me like a criminal.
*I have used a pseudonym here. My friend usually identifies himself openly to groups when he speaks about this issue.