By Cynthia Mauleon
[Editorial Note: Last night, Pres. Obama announced the steps he is taking under executive action to fix the broken immigration system. While millions of undocumented immigrants will be granted a pathway to citizenship, millions more are still left invisible. Today, VoiceWaves highlights one undocumented success story.]
When police cars and a hovering helicopter surrounded college student Ana Roman after a car accident she was not at fault for, a wave of fear and frustration filled her heart and mind.
At that time, she had a lot to lose. She was undocumented and had nothing but a Mexican identification card in hand.
“I was 19, by myself,” said Roman, who ended up getting her car impounded after the accident because of her status. “I wasn’t a criminal. I was just trying to get home from work.”
Roman is one of the 587,000 unauthorized immigrant youth who met the criteria for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and received DACA status. That number is only 55 percent of the 1.2 million youth eligible.
In late 1997, Roman came to the United States with her mother. Today, she is 25 years old and a student at Cal State Long Beach. As her graduation date approaches in December, she looks back at the challenges she faced as an undocumented student not only at school but also at home.
“Experiencing a permanent feeling of anxiety and stress shared by my entire family due to our situation, not qualifying for health insurance and my parents in constant fear of losing their jobs,” said Roman. “All of that always puts us on the edge of possibly destroying our family dynamic in a blink of an eye.”
But despite the obstacles, Roman has overcome the odds. “We are alive! We are here, and healthy, with a lot of love for each other,” Roman said. “That’s our greatest success.”
Today, driver’s license in hand, the CSULB senior studying Chicano Studies and Psychology also holds the title of a noteworthy scholarship recipient.
This past August, Roman and her colleague, Jaime Jorge, were awarded the Institute of Mexicans Abroad scholarship, a $1,000 scholarship toward their studies, by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
“I wasn’t expecting it, I had no idea I had even been nominated,” said Roman. “I was lucky and happy to meet all those people: Governor Jerry Brown, Eric Garcetti and a lot of representatives from Mexico.”
Prior to receiving scholarships like this one, Roman funded her education by working a minimum wage job at a drycleaners and with the help of her parents.
“I have received various scholarships that have paid for my last three semesters of tuition. These have all been private scholarships and awards based on financial need, academic performance and research recognition,” Roman said.
But DACA has also opened up a swarm of opportunities for the ambitious scholar. Roman is now a college aide in the English Development Department at Poly High School in Long Beach, tutoring English learners in various subjects.
DACA also gave Roman the chance to travel outside the country. She and Jorge were the first two undocumented students from CSULB qualifying for lower in state tuition under California Assembly Bill 540 who were allowed to return to Mexico for educational purposes. This was Roman’s first trip back to her native Mexico since she moved to the U.S. at age 9.
“I think the greatest thing about this trip, that I feel so blessed about, was that we were going back to Mexico City the first four days…my hometown,” said Roman. “It was amazing.”
Despite the years that separated her from her cherished homeland, she vividly remembered the Zócalo in Mexico City where her father would take her as a little girl. She remembered playing there all the time.
“I’m no longer a prisoner, I can travel! I can see the world, I can reconnect with my roots!” Roman said. “My hometown is beautiful, Mexico is beautiful. I wish the political climate was different so that we would be free to travel more without so much fear and restrictions.”
It is not easy for anyone with an undocumented status to go back to his or her homeland. It’s dangerous, difficult to return. Roman mentions Dario Guerrero, a Harvard Dreamer in recent news whom she admires.
“Guerrero was given a humanitarian visa to return to the United States after having left the country without permission to help his ailing mother in Mexico,” Roman mentioned. “He is pretty awesome, I look up to him.”
Upon graduating this December, Roman wishes to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology. Harvard and Stanford are schools Roman dreams of attending after CSULB. Being able to take care of her parents as they enter their senior age is what motivates her to continue her education.
“I could just get my B.A. and make more than minimum wage to help my parents but I could help them out even more when I finish,” said Roman. “That’s why we’re here. We are doing this for ourselves to an extent, but we are really doing it for our families.”
“I have to get to the top for them.”
Despite the obstacles, Roman is proud of her educational success and scholarship recognition for research she conducted. Becoming a researcher and professor are her goals for the future.
“I want to investigate social/political revolutions and movements, the role/importance of education within these social movements,” Roman said.
Roman came to the U.S. with her mother in 1997 where they settled in Long Beach. Three years later, her father finally joined them. She acknowledges the struggle her parents went through to bring her to this country and knows that she cannot give up.
“When you give up on yourself you’re giving up on everybody around you,” said Roman. “We can’t be selfish.”
In one of her classes, Roman recalled listening to various opinions that students felt towards students in her situation.
“I don’t get hurt by negative comments. I know what I do and I know that I work hard. I pay taxes and I come here [CSULB] and pay tuition out of pocket,” said Roman.
According to Chicano/Latino Studies professor Rigoberto Rodriguez, an ideal, more permanent solution to the issues faced by all students would be a free education for all, including immigrants.
“The more educated everyone is, the more productive, creative and competitive our residents will be in a globalized economy,” said Rodriguez.
Today, with a smile on her face and nothing but opportunities ahead of her, Roman has words of advice for those pushing through the same endeavors she is.
“Don’t give up. Life isn’t going to be easy, you rise and keep going.”