Efrain Leal Escalera is kind of obsessed with bugs. He’s dreamed of becoming a scientist for years, studying the tiny creatures that often go ignored underfoot. His passion for nature and some if its littlest inhabitants led him to photography.
He began with the only tools he had available: a camera phone and a clip-on macro lens. He used that to photograph his first specimens, a jumping spider and a praying mantis. Then when he had the chance, he bought an affordable camera setup with a real super-close-up lens. These days, when the insects are out to hunt and play, Escalera can be found intently searching for them in the grass at local parks or the dirt in front of his Aurora home. There’s a teeming universe of life around us, if you know how to look for it.
But Escalera worries his scientific dreams may never come true. He was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a small child. He was undocumented for most of his life, then gained limited status under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. Like the half-million people like him in this country, Escalera is allowed to work and attend college. But reaching the research world’s highest echelons is currently not a possibility. Many science grants come from the National Science Foundation, which bars funding to people who are not citizens.
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