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Irving Utera

Irving Utrera: 18, from Texas, born in Mexico

America has always been my home. It is here that I have had opportunities and the chance to meet and learn from different people from around the world. But it is also here that I have met the faces of selfishness, hate, and injustice. And it is also here where my family has faced both good and tough times. When I was five, we traveled from the south of Mexico to the U.S. in hopes of obtaining a better life. Here, my three brothers were born. As a kid growing up as an immigrant, you don’t really realize that your life is different from others — or at least I didn’t. The way I saw it, we moved to our uncle’s house, and now I had to learn a new language. For my family, like many immigrant families, things weren’t always easy. My dad struggled to find a steady job. Eventually, he was fortunate enough to land a decently paid industrial painting job, and we were able to move into a rental home. Then, the recession hit, and we were forced to move in with another uncle. For four years, we crammed into my uncles’ two-bedroom apartment. My family of five all shared one bed, except my father, who slept on the floor. Finally, we were able to move into a rental house. In seventh grade, I started working to help support my family. It was tough to balance with school, but I was happy. It was a small contribution, but it helped. It was a happy time in our family’s chapter — for the first time since we arrived in the US, things were looking up. Freshman year of high school, I began to learn the disadvantages of being undocumented, firsthand. I wanted to switch jobs so that I could focus on my academics, but I found out time and time again that I didn’t qualify for the jobs. Not because I lacked experience, or because of my age, or because I was a student — I was disqualified based on where I was born. My immigration status was a reality that I had not yet confronted. I worked to build my resume anyway I could – work experience, clubs, organizations. I knew that without legal status, college acceptance and affording higher education would be a challenge. TheDream.US made college a reality. Without the scholarship, I would’ve had to join the labor force straight out of high school, and face the hardships that my father has fought to overcome. Now, I believe the best way to give back to my community is through testimony and support – to motivate students like myself or young people in similar situations. I’ll be returning to my high school soon to speak about my experience putting myself through college with little money. I hope that my story inspires others to continue to strive for their goals, no matter the obstacles. In the future, I’d like to contribute financially to programs that help undocumented students succeed
and to create a neighborhood center to help students apply for scholarships. Students must know that their possibilities should be endless. The word immigrant has had a negative stigma for as long as I can remember. We are thought of as those who take away jobs, who live paycheck to paycheck, and who are ignorant and uneducated. This label will only go away if upcoming generations are given the opportunity to excel and achieve higher education. In order for there to be a change, DREAMers must have the opportunity to lead the charge.