Why I will march on April 10th 2013

This morning as I was driving into the office I saw a group of workers, with lunch boxes in had, running down the street on their way to a popular day laborer corner. It reminded me of the days when I worked as a day laborer organizer… What an eye opening experience. to hear the stories the issues and all the obstacles our brothers and sisters have to face on the daily basis. It reminded me of why i do the work that i do.  Why not a single more child should be separated from their parents.  Why our immigration system is broken.  Why people migrate in search of a better life, in search of food for their families, in search of dreams. many of us have lived very privileged lives and we really do not know about suffering. it would be easy for us to forget to stand around and do nothing…. BUT I REFUSE. I refuse to sit around as families are suffering. I refuse to sit around while workers are being exploited. I refuse to sit around as the voice of a crying community is silenced.  I refuse to pretend like none of this is going on. Which is why tomorrow I march.  Which is why tomorrow WE march. We will raise our voices and be heard. We will stomp our feet and be heard.  We will let this nation know that neither I, we, our us are invisible.  That we are human being who deserve rights dignity and respect… We will march…. Will you join us?

Cesar Espinosa

Date: April 10, 2013

Place: 1400 Smith Houston, TX ( corner of clay and smith)

Time: 11:30am

More info: http://www.houstonmarches.org

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“This is about being free.”

The first time I met one of my fellow Texas Dreamers, Ramiro Luna, he was speaking at a panel and he ended his speech by saying:

They say I’m breaking the law
But too often it feels like the law is breaking me
And really I’m just trying to break free

This stuck with me because the “Dreamer Paradox” as I like to call it, is exactly that — we are in a country that advocates freedom, yet in this very country we are not free. Some may argue that I am free to live here, that I am free to be here, but I am not. A person is not free when they see a cop stopped behind them at a red light and don’t only think about the ticket they are going to get, but they think about their life being over in a split second — did I make a complete stop? was I going too fast? can he stop me for checking my phone? don’t make a wide turn …

A person is not free when they cannot go eat at Mambo’s (my personal favorite) for fear of being picked up.

A person is not free when they are not allowed to check books out of the public library.

We are trapped in this metaphorical prison full of hatred, injustice, and food that never tastes homemade. We are trapped and cannot free ourselves. We go to college to free our minds. And we cross state lines every chance we get to free our souls.

But we are not free to be everything that we can be. And isn’t that an American motto? The one we grew up with?

The DREAM Act is more than giving a bunch of deserving graduates a number. The DREAM Act is setting these innocent people free.

Watch Jason Witmer’s report on DREAMer’s struggles and stories here

© July 2011. T.A.

Now What?

I graduated 13 days ago on May 13th. I graduated from a prestigious university here in Texas: Texas A&M University. A university that is ranked as one of the top public universities in the state, a university that taught me what it really means to be an American. Now, I have been in the United States for almost two decades and knew what it meant to be American long ago, long before I applied to college, long before my high school prom, long before middle school chaperoned dances, and long before I learned my ABC’s in English and not in Spanish.

But at A&M I was surrounded by boots, cowboy hats, big trucks, and “Howdy”. Now, let me retract a little – these things don’t fully nor correctly encompass what it means to be an American, but to me they are what it means to be a Texan, thus what it means to be an American. I am a Texan I wear boots, and go to the rodeo, and I secretly wish to own a big truck one day.

The lone star state is all I know, and all that I am loyal to, but I digress. I graduated less than two weeks ago with a Bachelors of Art in English Literature and an incorporated minor in Interdisciplinary Studies and another minor in Spanish. My ultimate goal: to teach 7th grade language arts at my old middle school where the kids needed some inspiration and encouragement to keep going, someone that came out of their hood and made it. Someone to show them that they can.

I am fully aware of the current teacher and budget cuts, and the fact that even with my undocumented self I still probably would have a lot of trouble getting a job. But right now they’re closing doors without even getting to know me. They don’t care that I am an Aggie, and that my alma mater is known for training the best teachers in the nation. They don’t care that I grew up in this school district and that I want to come back to it when many don’t even want to remember they came out of here. They don’t care that in my spare time I tutor (and often teach) the very kids they’re failing. They don’t care about my passion or my love for teaching. And they don’t care about the time and money I’ve invested in becoming an educated member of society.           

All they care about is that I don’t have a social security number.

That’s all they care about.

Because at the end of the day it’s always about the adults and never about the kids. They don’t care that all I want to do is help build a better tomorrow by teaching our children, by teaching our tomorrow.

So, I am angry. I am angry because I always knew I would get my degree, but I didn’t realize how nasty it was going to feel when I had that degree that states I am capable, and can’t use it. The only way something  will change is if the D.R.E.A.M. Act passes, so I urge everyone to support the D.R.E.A.M. Act and call your senators and representatives.

My degree has just started to gather dust there in it’s frame, hanging on the empty walls, waiting for more decorations of things in frames that record our lives happening, but nothing can happen right now if I’m not allowed to move forward with my education.

Sincerely,

A very frustrated teacher

Power Cards

In America, plastic cards give you power of some kind or the other. Growing up, many cards passed my way, many cards came and went, a lot of cards I lost or let expire and could never get back.

I’ve had a Kroger’s card, that gets me a discount everytime I purchase something.
I’ve had a Sam’s club card that you MUST have in you want to shop at Sam’s.
I’ve had a school ID that I used as identification when I flew to California and when I flew to panhandle cities for competitions. The first and only time I’ve ever flown because now I’m an “adult” and I used to have a Texas ID, but that expired a long time ago, and when I tried to renew it it was already too late.
I’ve never had a credit card because when I went off to college and tried to apply for one just in case they rejected me because I couldn’t get one unless I had a co-signer who could show a green card and who would pay for my debt in case my plan all along had been to spend all the money and then run away. I do not have a green card. I do no have a blue card. I do not have any type of card that makes me “American”. But I do have a bank card, that works as both a debit card and a credit card. And even though I was bummed out then, I guess it was all best in the long run because now I don’t have a credit card debt which I’m sure I would’ve accumulated being in college. And when I did start college, I had to go to my New Student Conference and was supposed to do a lot of things that day. I was supposed to sign up for classes, meet with my advisors, get a meal plan, get a parking permit … and of course get an ID because cards are powerful. But I couldn’t get an ID at school because I didn’t have a Texas ID in the first place, and what I could do was come back to Houston, get my parents to go with me to College Station, and have them show their ID as my legal guardians and then, only then, could I get my picture taken for my Texas A&M ID. (That was an issue in itself because my parents already didn’t want me to go). But when I got my school ID, I loved it. I cherished it and guarded it with my life as no one else with the privilege of getting card after card under their name did. Getting my school ID felt better than when my mother dragged me to the Consulado Mexicano to get my Matricula Consular and we waited there for 7 hours just to get this card that looked like I could’ve made myself at home. A card in which my picture was blurry and in which waiters and doormen always have trouble finding my date of birth. A card that has no power, yet the card my mother always reminds me to carry with me when I head out the door, just in case the police stops you, she tells me. What is that going to do? Nothing. I’m still going to either get a big fat ticket for no license or get arrested. The reason I was kicked out of my certification exams because I needed to have a “valid for of ID” — and what constitutes that? Because even FIESTA (the grocery store) won’t validate my matricula consular and I thought FIESTA was “un cachito de lo nuestro”.  But it doesn’t matter because I can shop somewhere else …

… But when I showed this ID in attempts to renew my Power Card the librarian across the desk said “sorry do you have anything else? This ID is not valid” turning it around, looking at it with a confused look on her face, and returning it to me. Oh, well this is my old Power Card I told her, pulling out my expired card, the card I used to use to check out books every single weekend from the Houston Public Library and I was always on time when returning books. Always. Because I cherish books. I love books. My mother offered to get the card under her name, but it’s not about that anymore, it’s about the principle of the thing. Why can’t I get a card that’s already free? That let’s me borrow books so I can read with my students (I’m sorry but I do not want to go buy The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I just want to read it with my student).

All I want to do, is be able to check out books. I will return them. I promise. I will not run away with them to Mexico.

© April 2011. T.A.

My Interview With the Houston Chronicle

A couple days ago, on Wednesday,  I received a call from Jason Witmer , a reporter with the Houston Chronicle. He asked if he could interview me for a piece he is working on for the D.R.E.A.M. Act. I asked what it would constitute of, and he said that I would share my story on camera. I’ve never been timid about sharing my story — if someone wants to know I tell them, but since the coming out action at Texas A&M sharing my story has elevated to a completely different level. I don’t know if I was ready for all of this, but when you dive in head first you must just keep going. Regarless of the immensity of this, I was excited to share my story with someone new the same way I am exicted when I share my story with a student, a teacher, a parent.

The interview was done at my house. It took me back to the first time I was filmed about the issue back in 2006 when I was a newbie in the movement. I was then being filmed for a documentary, mostly reading things I had jotted down in my journal, nothing concrete, more abstract. Still wonderful, the first time I openly talked about being undocumented. I’ve come a long way since sharing my story for the first time. I remember, the first time being filmed and asked about what the DREAM Act meant to me, how my life would be if it DIDN’T pass, I broke down, and the filming had to stop. This part of the interview didn’t make it to the final documentary, as a lot of times when I just couldn’t go through with it … as a lot of aspects of my life didn’t see the light of day 5 years ago. Because I was ashamed, because I was afraid, because I was apologetic.

On Wednesday, the interview was long, but not tedious. I was asked many questions, not difficult to answer, but questions that needed careful, thought-out responses nonetheless. Questions that I remember being asked before, questions that I couldn’t answer before because I was just not ready.

Jason asked me some questions that I had thought about before, but had never really given an asnwer to. Answers that I was hearing come out of my mouth for the first time. At some point in this interview, he asked me if I remembered anything from Mexico. I told him, no, the only thing I remember is the house we lived in when we lived in Matamoros right before we crossed over. However, I haven’t decided yet if I remember it because it is a memory or if I remember it because I saw it in a picture once and created a memory out of it. Often I think it is the latter, but I hope with all of my heart that it is not.

I don’t really beat myself up over it though, I try to connect to my heritage and culture as much as possible, and I told him, it’s understandable, right, that I don’t remember because I was 4 when I came and I’ve never been back. However, there’s an interesting story my mother told me while talking one day. I asked her, mom I’m gonna write a book, and I want to tell a story about you, if you could choose one time of your life that you would want to be told what story would it be. She told me, the day we crossed over. I asked why, dumbfounded, because that couldn’t have been the happiest, nor most memorable time of her life. I mean, she got married. She had two daughters. She went to school. She fell in love. When I told her this, she said that she would want that story to be told because it’s the oldest memory she has, the one is still in Spanish, the one on the border — the one that makes her feel closest to home.

I told Jason, isn’t it interesting? That when she crossed the border, she left everything materialistic behind, only carried what she could just to give us, my sister and myself, a better life.

Who would’ve known that she was leaving EVERYTHING behind. Her memories, her life, somewhere caught in the fences of the border, drowning in the Rio Grande.

© April 2011. T.A.

I Found Myself

            For the past 9 years I have been working with the Immigrants Rights’ Movement. I remember clearly my first march at the age of 11, the hot sun and the multitude of people marching behind me. At first it all seemed frivolous to me since I was not aware of the injustices that were taking place against my people. I never truly felt connected to the cause until 2006. It is clear in my mind, I remember walking into the hot concrete of Downtown Houston and looking back and seeing thousands of people marching in my direction. The thrill that I felt of seeing such passion in the faces of those marching in the road will forever be imprinted in my mind. That was when we decided to break that barrier and become active in with the Dream Act. We joined a local Dream Act organization and began working with them for about a year. After a while we decided to form the organization that would define our lives. Familias Inmigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha was the name that was chosen by my mother who had always pushed to fight for what we believed in. FIEL was born in late May 2007 and since then we have worked with the student undocumented population in Houston, TX. For the last 4 years, I have been there in the movement but at the same time I haven’t. After the Dream Act did not pass the Senate, I found myself pessimistic, angry and sad. At the start of 2011 I found myself not wanting to continue working with the immigrant community because I felt like I had failed many after the Dream Act campaign. Many students that I had organized during the last Dream Act campaign kept coming to me and asking me, what now? I couldn’t answer that question and for a while I didn’t know how to.

            That all changed on April 8th, 2011. I had heard about the D6 Oklahoma retreat and for a while I didn’t think about even going and if I hadn’t, that would have been one of the greatest mistakes of my life. What I felt in Oklahoma was what I felt during that march back in 2006. I saw people like me who shared the same passion for their people and their future as I did. I saw that I was not alone and that I really hadn’t been doing what I was supposed to be doing for my community and my people, for my friends and family. I saw students who are on the same boat as I am and how they are like me and will not stop until they achieve their goal. Oklahoma changed my life, it made me want to become a better organizer, a better brother, a better activist and a better person. For a while I wondered what my calling is in life. I had always wondered what I was born to do and I realized in Oklahoma that I was born to do this. I was born to fight for the rights of my people and friends; for my family. I saw that I was indeed not alone and that I had the support of not just Texas but of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas & Missouri; a support which has empowered me to do more than what I have done for the past 9 years. Even though I have fixed my status and am technically no longer undocumented, in my heart I will ALWAYS be a Dreamer. I will always fight for the rights of those who can’t. I will always be an ally or a D Dreamer. My heart will always remain undocumented. Why? Because I saw myself in everyone in there, I found myself the weekend spent in Oklahoma. That is why Oklahoma changed me for the better. As long as there is a single breath in my body I will never stop fighting…

© April 2011. A.E.

Undocumented and Unafraid

Yesterday evening many of my fellow Texas Dreamers and Allies gathered at Texas A&M University for an event that, for many of us, was life changing. There have been “Undocumented and Unafraid” campaigns all over the nation, and I remember, when they began, that all I did was admire the bravery and boldness of these students who came forward and revealed their immigration status.

I remember sitting in my weekly meetings and going out with my CMSA (Council for Minority Student Affairs) buddies when I was still at Texas A&M last semester, and discussing hte possibility of coming out, but always psyching ourselves out because of the fear we had yet to overcome especially being in one of the most conservative campuses in Texas.

However, after a long silence and living in the shadows, the Coming Out of the Shadows event was put into place, and we did not back down. Going back to Aggieland, after being gone for a semester, to support my organization and my friends was a blessing. I decided, that because I am no longer in school, I had a lot less to lose than some of my friends, so I came out.

This decision was a long time coming, and it was time to finally free myself from the metaphorical prison in which all Dreamers are trapped. We struggle to be free from these confines, but whereas we can free our minds, our bodies, and our souls; we cannot let our talents, skills, and dreams be free, they will be trapped until the DREAM Act passes. Unfortunately, this is beyond our control, and all we can do is attempt to free as much as we can of ourselves, thus speaking out and being unashamed and unafraid of who we are. We are unafraid because once we let the fear go, we start to be free.

Coming out of the shadows yesterday was a moment of celebration for me. It was a process for me to be ready to do this, but when I decided to do it there was no turning back. It was like getting on a rollercoaster and building up all the suspense as you go slowly up the hills, and then let yourself drop trusting that you are safe , I trusted in my community of Dreamers and Allies, I trusted in my friends, and I trusted in my school.

These are some articles documenting what happened more or less:

Houston Chronicle

The Eagle — I urge THE EAGLE to DROP THE I-Word!

RITA Support

copyright. 2011. T.A.

Blog

The Reality of Being Undocumented

March 17, 2011

Being ‘undocumented’ is exactly what it sounds like. It means, being without documents, thus being without a name, without a home. It means being without a documented past, without a present or future to document. Nonexistent almost, yet for the past couple of years, the undocumented youth have made themselves visible, known, heard.

The youth, most having graduated from college or almost there now, have faced many struggles with their status (that which was acquired through no fault of their own, a mere inheritance from their parents) and they decided they couldn’t continue to sit back and let this pass them by without at least putting up a fight.

So they came out of the shadows and spoke about their struggles. It is important to mention that undocumented youth usually fit the same description: they arrived in the United States within their first years of life, they grew up here, they went to school here, and they know English a lot better than they know their native language. Up until high school graduation, they believe they are just like all their peers, that they have the same opportunities, that they will lead similar lives.

The reality is a different one. In high school these students begin to see all the differences and begin to realize that not everyone is equal; that even though they are human too – they are not equal in the eyes of this country because they lack a social security number, a green card, documentation.

At 16 teenagers get to start driving. It is an American thing to get your first car in high school, however, this is when the eyes of the undocumented students begin to open as they cannot get a car because they cannot get a license. This is the beginning of an endless list of rejections. As teenagers, they cannot get an afterschool job because they can’t work in the country, and once they’re getting ready to apply to college, they are faced with obstacles that they never thought would happen.

Applying for college is difficult for undocumented students because they are allowed to apply, yet a lot of the people who are supposed to be in charge of admissions have no idea what to do with undocumented students. Once accepted, they have to figure out a way to pay for college given that their parents lack the resources to send them to school. Because they are undocumented, these students cannot apply for FAFSA, thus cannot receive federal aid. However, they can apply to something called TASFA (here in Texas) which is essentially the same thing as FAFSA, but only provides state aid and it has to be filled out manually. With the TASFA undocumented students can only receive two grants; everything else must be paid for with scholarships and personal education funds that most do not have. Scholarships are another hurdle, most of the time undocumented students are great candidates for these scholarships but then are faced with the crude reality of not being able to qualify for them because they do not have a social. Undocumented students cannot get a credit card, and it is even way more expensive to get a contract for a cell phone.

Once they jump over the hurdle of getting accepted and getting college paid for, they face new internal and external conflicts. Because undocumented students cannot get an I.D. it becomes more than just a simple yes or no when their friends invite them out because when they go out they are going to have to show a different I.D. that is not a state issued I.D. and will have to deal with questions, weird looks, and a moment that they’d rather avoid altogether.

Most college students study abroad to get a fuller college experience, and they do internships to be able to help build their resume. However, an undocumented student is not able to experience such wonderful things. They cannot travel as much as they’d want to study abroad because if they leave the country they cannot come back, and they can’t be hired for internships as they cannot work legally in the country. This being something that truly upsets them as they work just as hard and are just as deserving as their classmates.

Despite all these struggles, an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year and have dreams to go to college and graduate and get a job. However, the ones who do go to college and see through the rest of the struggles are faced with yet another bigger issue once they graduate.

As of right now, the only real, legal document that undocumented students can get their name on and valued is their college diploma, so naturally they take it very seriously. It means a lot to them. Current legislation allows these students to go to college and grants them residency for tuition purposes, yet once they graduate these students cannot work since they are not legally here, so they have a degree that is being wasted by waiting tables, cleaning houses, mowing lawns, etc. This is wasted talent, talent that if it is not polished and used, it will be lost. This country needs these students, for their contribution economically, culturally, and mentally.

© 2011. T.A.