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Javier Silva – Arizona State University (online)

Snowboarding, Starbucks, and media production all make up part of DREAMer Javier Silva’s life journey so far. It started in Sinaloa, Mexico where he was born. His parents’ separation when he was five years old provided the catalyst for his immigration to the United States. His mother, destitute in Mexico without food or money, decided to move to Mammoth Lakes, California. “She had no real skills she could use down there that would provide her with enough money to give me the life she wanted, so she basically came to the States out of desperation,” Javier explains. She worked continually for a year to save enough money for her son to join her.

Because he was so young when he arrived, Javier had no problems picking up English or acclimating to California mountain town life. In middle school, he developed a passion for snowboarding and started competing in tournaments, gaining sponsors by the time he graduated from his continuation high school. Javier says it was “basically homeschooling, in a way. I would just do the work and get to leave earlier…and I would spend months of my time on the mountain, snowboarding.”

This experience afforded Javier an atypical DREAMer life, but he still struggled with his status.

I kept [it] a secret… People weren’t open about it and the people who were open about their status were kinda ridiculed, so I feel like I would have been outcast.”

After graduating, with no means of going to college, Javier dedicated his time to snowboarding. “I thought about all my immigration issues and I didn’t really see a way out. I never had anyone [to] guide me or let me know that I could be doing stuff,” he says.

Javier eventually went to Cerra Coso Community College in Mammoth Lakes by paying his own way, with some help from waivers. But financially transitioning to a 4-year university for DREAMers is usually not as feasible. He made the move to Southern California in 2011 and three years into a job at Starbucks,  the company “announced that they would be paying for people to go to college at ASU [Arizona State University-online], so I signed up for that and I was really excited!” Javier says. However, he found himself with a known DREAMer roadblack: FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). “I got this letter telling me that I was not eligible, because I couldn’t apply for FAFSA.” Javier was ready to wipe his dream off the table until an ASU counselor called him about TheDream.US with the words “this is your only chance.”

“It’s really a blessing that I received this scholarship,” Javier says. But the idea of taking classes online scared him at first: “I remember when I first started at Cerro Coso, I signed up for a class online…and it was a complete disaster. But [at ASU] it is a lot different. It is actually more like being in the classroom, because you get to watch the teacher giving a lecture.” So far, Javier says the most challenging aspect is “that you have to be on top of everything.” Majoring in Communications, his ultimate goal is to work for an advertising agency one day, already stepping into the industry through jobs as an art production assistant on music video and commercial sets.

Nearing 29 years old, Javier notes a change in the last couple of years. He says, “I feel like I am more aware that there are people in a similar situation as me. I feel a lot more confident lately… because it’s actually a reality now. Anything I set out to do is more attainable.” As for his mom’s take: “She’s definitely very proud, because she sacrificed a lot for me to get here and I’m doing what she wanted me to.”

His major tip for future scholars:

Don’t stop looking for opportunities. I feel like a lot of things have solutions and they might not be the answer you’re looking for, but ultimately, you will be able to accomplish whatever you set out to, as long as you try. You have to try.”

He also keeps his focus by remembering that “somebody else is paying for me to go to school, so I can’t really let them down…I want to make the people that are paying for my school to be proud, by getting good grades.”

Javier doesn’t snowboard as much anymore, but he says “I know where the mountains are. I know I can always go there.”