By Tatjana Bozhinovski
Last month, I wrote quite a bit about my experience of working with students from dozens of countries around the world. I shared good stories and bad, happy moments and sad, challenges and accomplishments. This past month, due to certain actions of our country’s administration, I couldn’t help but think of my students I had that are DACA recipients. I thought of Maria among many others, a young girl, who I thought has a very bright future. Though it’s been almost 10 years since she was in the same school where I worked, we kept in touch and I have followed her challenges, ups and downs and everything that life has thrown her way. She agreed to talk to me a couple of weeks ago to share her story and tell me what she could.
I am not going to use Maria’s last name, nor her picture due to the circumstances, but her story is worth telling. She came to the USA in January of 2006 with her mom and two brothers. She was 12 years old and was the oldest sibling. They were faced with many challenges on their way here, but she chose not to share details with me at this time about that journey. The four of them stayed in Virginia for a week. They had heard that Columbus, Ohio was a better place for them. They had better opportunities as new arrivals. I asked her what she remembers about her first day of school here and the first year. “I remember not being able to speak any English”, she said, “but I was glad to see other students who came from other countries. We couldn’t speak the same language, but we could still communicate and laugh. I was happy to be learning English in my first year and be attending school. When we had school breaks, I would be sad because I wasn’t in school”.
I didn’t have Maria in any of my classes. I had her younger brother who loved soccer and was picked to be on the school’s soccer team. I knew Maria from seeing her in the halls, in the lunchroom, in the auditorium. Everyone knew Maria. She was this bright eyed girl that always smiled and was nice to everyone. She had many friends and helped others. She always talked to teachers and other adults in the school about her plans and her future. She told me that many of the teachers told her that she will probably not be able to attend college due to her status. Initially, she became disinterested in college because that seemed impossible for her to achieve. But, she also said, “I never fully gave up on going to college because education was always something I wanted to attain. I was encouraged by other undocumented students around the country…Gabby Pacheco is an immigrant activist who walked from Florida to Washington, D.C. with a group of undocumented students. She gave me hope! I, other DREAMers, and allies in our community began organizing for educational attainment in Ohio. Even after DACA was created, I still had major hurdles to get to college, first at CSCC and then once I was able to transfer to OSU. In both organizations, there was significant push back to aiding or working with undocumented or DACA students”.
““Immigration has constantly been a political football in the US for both parties. However”, she said, “DACA doesn’t define us as human beings! Migration should not define any person”
Despite the many barriers, Maria did receive her Bachelor of Arts and Science from the Ohio State University this year, focusing in Geography and Anthropology. Thankfully, some of her mentors convinced her to continue her studies. She is currently attending Miami University in Oxford, studying Geography.
I couldn’t help but ask about her family. I wanted to know how Nestor is doing. Did he go to college? Does he still play soccer? She has another younger brother and her mother had baby girl that should be in elementary school by now. But, because of the current political situation concerning DACA, she did not feel safe sharing any information. She only added that her mother has been a great support to her, acting as mother and father in their household. She also added: “I am the oldest of my siblings and feel an intense drive to continue being a role model for them”.
As for the DACA program, and her opinion about the changes President Trump has proposed, Maria had a lot to say. She said she was not surprised with the new Trump administration’s decision, but feels it is pretty painful because many of her fellow undocumented students and workers had gotten the chance to live a life outside the shadows for a little while after the program was implemented, and now they have so much to worry about again. “Immigration has constantly been a political football in the US for both parties. However”, she said, “DACA doesn’t define us as human beings! Migration should not define any person. I can say by experience that if we fight for something as hard as we did for DACA, we can fight for our collective rights in the future. I will continue with my graduate education with the full support of my family and my community. I will continue to fight for all immigrants. There is a false narrative of “good” and “bad” immigrants that I want to dismiss as divisive. No human being is illegal!”
“No human being is illegal”. I don’t think that there is much more to add to that, so I will leave this as the conclusion. I thank Maria from the bottom of my heart for agreeing to talk to me on this subject. The beautiful young girls I knew, with brown eyes and a big smile on her face, grew up to be a wonderful young woman with great dreams for her future, and I wish her nothing but the best.