Martin Rodriguez was 8 years old when he came to America. Up through high school, he realized how many doors were shut to him due to his status. Continuing to do his best in school, Martin graduated early to help care for his baby brother, who was just born, and applied and was accepted to NC State – Raleigh. Only able to attend for one semester, due to the high costs of out-of-state tuition, Martin soon transferred to Forsythe Tech Community College, where he was forced to wait until past the deadline to register for classes. In his words, “I think this policy is really wearing down the youth in NC, yet I am motivated that undocumented youth are now taking charge. We are not waiting for someone to speak for us; we’re taking action ourselves. I am involved because of the need for other youth to see this responsibility and fight with me.”
Cynthia Martinez came to the United States when she was 3 years old to be reunited with her father. Being undocumented really hit Cynthia senior year in high school, as many of her peers received scholarships that she was academically better qualified for. Grateful for the opportunities available to her, she still yearns for more knowledge. “Now that I’m more aware of the injustices of my community, I can’t see myself being silent to my own problem, nor to the problems of other people in my community,” Cynthia says. “What kind of person would I be if I didn’t do something? While it has personal anecdotes that are mine, this overall story isn’t my story – it is the story of thousands of youth across the country that keeps repeating itself. It is his story, her story, and your story.” Cynthia hopes to inspire other undocumented youth to come out and take a stand, and strengthen the power of their collective stories.
Santiago Garcia was brought to America at the age of 7, in hopes of a family reunification and a future away from extreme poverty. He began working in the blueberry fields of North Carolina at the age of 8, needing to financially contribute to his family. He considers himself privileged in a sense that he was able to fight to go to school, even lying to his family that he was going to work instead. Santiago grew up seeing his parents go through checkpoints on the way to work. If stopped, not only were they ticketed, but their crop earnings of the day were also taken away from them. “The sorrow, pain, happiness and everything else in my life clings to my story and the struggles that my parents have gone through. And so many other people can see their story reflected in mine, in my footprints,” says Santiago. He is coming out in the hopes spreading ripples of hope in these shared stories, ripples that are turned into taking action against injustice.
Alicia Torres-Don was 6 years old when she came to U.S. Her parents sacrificed their family and home in order to provide a better tomorrow for their children. After graduating from Stephen F. Austin University in Texas in 2009, Alicia found herself still unable to use her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. In her words, “my problems will not be solved by simply going back to where I came from but by staying and fighting for what is right, for justice for our community. It is the undocumented youth of North Carolina that have made me want to fight, but not for me, for us because I, like them, am undocumented and we will together learn to be unafraid and unashamed!” Alicia is taking a stand and coming out of the shadows in order to make her parents dream of a better tomorrow a reality.
Manuel Vasquez came to America at the age of 11. After settling in North Carolina, the reality of his immigration status finally set in during his last years in high school as he began to apply to college. Manuel found himself in a period where at times undocumented youth were completely banned from community colleges or mandated to pay out-of-state tuition though they graduated from a local high school. He persevered, going on to Wake Tech Community College after graduation. Due to the heavy burden of tuition and the need to financially support his family, Manuel was forced to put his education on hold a mere two semesters later. Though his story is not that of the traditional valedictorian, he hopes to still reach other undocumented youth who share similar experiences. He is taking a stand to ask them not to lose hope, to come out and remind this Democratic administration of the plight still faced by undocumented youth.
Angelica Velazquillo was discouraged by a lack of support from inside educational administration, she was inspired by a fellow community member who reminded her that no one could take her education away from her. After attaining a Bachelor’s degree and wanting to give back to her community, Angelica was accepted into a Master’s of Social Work program at DePaul University, but is unable to attend because of financial obstacles. She is choosing to drop her fear because her home no longer feels safe.
Marco Saavedra came to the U.S. when he was 3 years old, to be reunited with his mother. After successfully navigating the education system, he was accepted to and graduated from Kenyon College. In his home city of Cincinnati, Ohio, where 287g and Secure Communities are prevalent, the immigrant community has come to see it as given that whenever they leave the house, they face a risk of arrest, detention and deportation. Marco is inspired by the past actions of undocumented youth fighting back against injustice. He feels that current immigration policies have led to the creation of a class of young folk that have nothing to lose and are willing to risk it all, because there is no longer a carrot or a stick to hold over them. Marco explains, “When you bottle up your status for 20+ years and you suppress it, you’re no longer telling your story, you’re screaming it.” He urges undocumented youth to fully tap into their potential, shed their fears, and come out, for they have much power to acquire by moving from powerlessness to fearlessness.