By Gaby Pacheco May 7, 2018
“Daniela”, 24, from Virginia, born in Mexico
A lot of high school students in America can share the feelings I remember of uncertainty and anxiety about their future, not knowing whether college was the right decision or how they might pay for an education.I remember when I was a high school senior and I made the decision to go to college, regardless of my immigration status. It was an extremely tough — and scary — decision to make. I cried and cried and wondered if it would be worth it. But I persisted. I worked hard as a server and paid out of state tuition for my Associate’s degree. When I was 17, I learned that being undocumented meant, among other things, that there was no financial assistance for me to go to college, and that, if I decided to attend, I would have to pay out of state tuition. I also finally understood that although I could work minimum paying jobs, I would never be able to be a history teacher, as I had always aspired to be. Just as I completed my Associates degree, I found out I was pregnant. But DACA had also just been announced, and I knew that I had a real opportunity pursue my dreams. Even with a baby on the way, I didn’t give up, and I knew I would go back to school. Now, when I meet other DREAMers, I tell them to have faith and trust that there will be a way— as long as you don’t give up. Don’t ever let your status keep you from reaching for your dreams. To make ends meet as a single parent, my mother currently works two jobs — cleaning offices and park bathrooms. She rents a small room that she shares with my older sister, who was born in the U.S. and is an American citizen. It is also evident how being undocumented affects my mom’s life. She has worked for over 20 years and still has to work two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet. In fact, I found out I was undocumented when I was 15 years old and told my mom that I was going to search for a job because I didn’t want her to have to take a third job. It was then that she sat me down and explained that I was undocumented. But even then, I didn’t fully understand what it meant. DACA has meant, for me and my brother and hundreds of thousands of other DREAMers, that we have new chances. Prior to DACA, my younger brother used to work 14-hour days, six days a week and barely brought home 20k a year. He now works as a warehouse manager making 50k. He lives with his girlfriend, and they are able to afford to rent a townhome on their own. This is just one example of the difference that DACA has made in our lives. Higher education access for DREAMers is important to our society, because we are part of the society. We can’t exclude members of our society and think that we are doing the best we can. Without access to higher education, and TheDream.US scholarship, I would be struggling to make ends meet, just as my mom is still doing so now. My plan was to continue to work and to save little by little, taking one course a semester. Now that I have to pay full price for my daughter’s day care, I know that it would have taken me years longer to afford to pursue my degree without DACA, TheDream.US scholarship, and in-state tuition.
Currently I volunteer to make and serve meals at my local homeless shelter as often as I can. I also teach adults English when my schedule permits it. I try to encourage those around me to follow their dreams and to contribute to making our community better. Once I graduate I will also be able to directly give back by being a teacher in my community. For me, the U.S. has always been my home. I don’t know what it is like in Mexico, at least not from my own lived experience. My 3 ½ year old daughter has only ever known Virginia to be her home. If I were forced to leave, not only would I have to go to a place I have never called home, but I would have to take my daughter to a place she has no connection to.