For Immediate Release: August 13, 2020
Contact: Carli Kientzle at [email protected]
Maria of University of Houston and Tania of Delaware State University are TheDream.US’ “DREAMers of the Week”
Washington, DC – TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college access and success program for undocumented immigrant youth, is continuing its “DREAMer of the Week” feature – a weekly profile of a TheDream.US Scholar whose stories offers a powerful example of the incalculable contributions of DREAMers to America.
This week’s DREAMers are Maria of University of Houston and Tania of Delaware State University:
Even when I thought that many were against me, TheDream.US showed me that there was someone out there that believed in me.
I was just a little girl when I came to America – I was only 7 years old. Coming to America at such a young age made things very difficult for me. I always knew I was undocumented. The culture, lifestyle, and, especially, the language all seemed strange to me, and it was very different than what I was used to in Mexico. I did not speak English and living in a mostly Anglo neighborhood made it really hard for me, especially at school.
I remember when I used to get home after a day at school and attempt to do my homework, I would just cry because I just didn’t understand.
Luckily, my neighbor was able to help with my homework assignments and still to this day I am forever grateful of them. The struggle of language at school taught me an invaluable lesson – to be a fighter and not a quitter. I was going to fight for the education that I wished for.
After graduating from High School, I went to Lone Star Community College, where I obtained a two year scholarship at their Honors College. I then transferred to the University of Houston and obtained my Bachelor of Science Degree majoring in Political Science. During my time at the University, I was President for the Youth Empowerment Alliance, an organization that aims to help undocumented students in their transition to college and fight for our rights in a state and national level as an affiliate of United We Dream.
My college education is preparing me for what’s to come. My dream is to obtain a JD in Law and work for a non-profit organization as an immigration attorney. Regardless of all the obstacles that life may throw at us, we will overcome them because our dreams are bigger and more powerful than any negativity that tries to come our way. Obtaining a college education, enabled by DACA, TheDream.US scholarship, among others, has empowered me to keep moving forward and making my family proud.
TheDream.US has given me the opportunity to keep my aspirations high and not let anyone stop me from achieving my dreams and aspirations. Do not be afraid to apply – by applying, you are one step closer to accomplishing your goals.
DACA gave me the opportunity to live a less fearful life. It has allowed to me to work, apply for my driver’s license to drive and obtain scholarships that would have otherwise been impossible without it. Politicians can take away my DACA status, but they will never take away my education or knowledge.
To anyone who is skeptical about the need to protect DREAMers, I would say this – living in uncertainty is definitely NOT the American Dream. Living a life of uncertainty is not what we, or our parents brought us here for. How can thousands of lives be put in limbo for such a long time?
When I was six years old, my family and I immigrated from Mexico. I started halfway through first grade and knew that I wanted to excel in my education after seeing how much the American educational system had to offer. In highschool, I fell in love with the marching band and served as Drum Major for two-consecutive years. I was also in the AFJROTC program where I performed with the drill team and achieved the highest rank of c/Lt. Colonel and served as Deputy Group Commander. I knew I wanted to continue my education and eventually join the military, but given my immigration status and finances, I knew neither option was available to me. With TheDream.US opportunity scholarship, I am able to attend Delaware State University and pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in nursing. After college I would like to return to South Carolina to put my degree to use and give back to the state and the people that watched me grow ito the young woman I am today.
My name is Tania Hernandez. I am a twenty-year-old Sophomore DACA student at Delaware State University. I am a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, and I was brought to the United States at the early age of six years old.
I was in America where people around me spoke differently, looked and dressed differently, and did things differently than the people back home. However, I would only notice the differences for about a year. My parents told my brother and I that we would need to learn to act like the people around us, because we would be here for a while, and we needed to blend in.
Soon, I began to forget everything about Mexico and learned how to live as an American. At school we recited the pledge of allegiance every morning and had a morning prayer. I began to speak fluent English and even began dressing like my new friends from school. A year later, I could no longer see the differences; I was a regular American child. I learned what immigration was when I was in the seventh grade. In history class we were discussing how the Europeans had immigrated to the new world and then one of my classmates said “yea, like Tania did.” Normally I would have been alright with being used as an example, but from his tone of voice I could tell that this was not a pleasant one, nor did I want to be the center of the example.
I asked my teacher to further explain immigration to me after class and later that evening I went home and asked my mother if we were immigrants. She said yes; we were one of those many families that the news crew kept reporting on when they were separated.
From that moment forward I felt like there was a giant bullseye on my back telling everyone that I was unwanted here. The issue was more like the elephant in the room all throughout high school. Many of my classmates suspected my status but would never have the courage to ask me upfront. Come my senior year, however, my world came crumbling down.
Up until that point, I had been able to mask my status due to my approval for DACA, since it granted me the opportunity to work and receive my driver’s license just like all the other teenagers. However, my dream career has always been to join the military and I passed all the requirements except one: my citizenship status. Recruiters wanted me to join their branch, since I had received an 87 on my most current ASVAB examination. They would take me through the whole pre-recruitment screening and then be puzzled when the system would reject my social security number.
They too were confused that I had a valid social security number, but that was because I was classified under DACA, the system would not clear me for enlistment. I was heartbroken five times, and each was harder and harder. I could not wrap my head around the fact that I was there willingly volunteering to serve and fight, so someone else’s child, husband, or brother would not have to. All I wanted was the chance to repay the country that had become my home and given me so much just a little bit by fighting to defend it and the freedom it offers.
All five branches gave me the same answer: I am so sorry but at this moment you are ineligible to join the United States Military. I was devastated and felt that there was no solution to my problem. I became angry and frustrated, because I had strived to excel in everything, I strived throughout grade school and now there seemed to be no future for me. I could not join the military, and college did not seem like a likely option. My home state of South Carolina allowed DACA students to attend most universities, but we had to pay out-of-state tuition or international student tuition, which is typically two to three times more than in-state tuition. On top of that, I could not use any form of federal aid.
My parents did not make anywhere close to enough to cover even a semester of tuition at a four-year accredited university, so I decided I would begin by taking classes at the local technical college. On graduation day, I was ecstatic because I had been awarded the Life Scholarship, which is the highest scholarship that the state of South Carolina offers high school students based on merit.
This restored my faith, because I felt like finally my hard work was being recognized, and I might have a chance to at least get an associate degree to work with and then transfer to a university. That was not the case, because once again I was rejected. When I went to register for classes that fall, the financial advisor informed me that I could not use my Life Scholarship – the scholarship that I had earned – because of my status. She also informed me that I might want to change my major and desired career field. Even if I did manage to find a way to pay for my degree, I would not be allowed to work because as a DACA status individual, I could not get licensure in South Carolina. So, for now I am stalled.
I never give up and this is not going to make me start to give up. I came across TheDream.US scholarship and was awarded the opportunity scholarship. I go to Delaware State University and work. I have gotten new experiences, both good and bad. Like me, there are over a hundred other DACA students that are in the same situation. We leave our families behind, and for me that has been the hardest part. I, as the oldest of three, was forced to handle everything alongside my parents because I was the only one who could speak to both worlds. At the young age of ten, I knew about finances, legal documentation, and what it took to uphold a household. At the age of sixteen, I became a primary income and was basically an adult. To leave home, felt like I was abandoning my family, my parents in particular. I feel very guilty and selfish, because I am doing this for myself, for my career. The worst part is that we are so far away, for many of us it is a 12-13 hour drive just to get back home. If and when things happen, we cannot just drop everything and leave and that adds to our frustration because we feel so incompetent.
So finally, I close with this: allow me the chance to live my dream just like you have had. I want to repay this country that I have come to call home, because it is the only home I can honestly recall. I want to be able to return home, to South Carolina, and provide a service to the community that watch me grow and influenced me into the young woman I am today.
TheDream.US has provided over 6,500 college scholarships to DREAMers at more than 70 partner colleges in 16 states and Washington, DC.
The Scholars’ stories are especially powerful and poignant following the Supreme Court oral arguments on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an executive action, which provided temporary legal protection for undocumented youth, terminated by President Trump in September 2017. The legal limbo and uncertainty is affecting Scholars’ lives, health, and futures and threatens to keep Scholars from fulfilling their incredible potential.
- Read through TheDream.US Scholar story-bank, featuring powerful personal reflections from Scholars about their lives, journeys, and future goals here
- Hear from two TheDream.US graduates, now working as a teacher and a nurse, discussing the impact of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program online here
- Watch a new video featuring TheDream.US college graduates online here