It’s July 9, 2013. The annual DREAM graduation ceremony takes place in Washington, D.C. Luckily for me, I live in North Carolina, and don’t have to travel far. Others end up traveling from Texas and other distant states.
At 3 a.m. a Southern Express tour bus arrives in Durham. I and the rest of Immigrant Youth Forum, a youth-led group from Carrboro, board the bus, along with other North Carolinian youth groups. We are collectively known as the NC DREAM Team. The tour bus leaves at 4 a.m. and the bus ride lasts six wonderful hours. We arrive in front of Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill. Now all of us are gathered here at this one place at this one time for something revolutionary.
The church on Capitol Hill is the location of the DREAM graduation. This year is special because a mock wedding is also taking place. In addition, there are plenty of speakers who are also a part of the event. The ambition for justice thickens, as Marco Cervantes, a Carborro DREAMer, shares a poem. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a gay-right activist, and a wait-list deportee all speak about justice, rights, and dreams. During the mock wedding, two women, Linsay Schubiner and Prerna Lal – lesbian bi-nationals – exchanged vows and married to show progression in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual/Queer (LGBTQ) movement and to promote immigration reform.
I, along with other youth – some high schoolers and some post-high school students – are in the crowd of nearly 200, dressed in caps and gowns of many colors: green, blue, black, and red. The DREAM Act graduation ceremony symbolizes the unshattered dreams that immigrants, especially of the student category, still hold on to, even though they know that studying a career while undocumented is extremely expensive for most.
Soon after, a march begins at the church. We mock graduates come together, roll out 10-foot banners and single-person signs saying “Undocumented, Unafraid,” and “No Papers, No Fear!” Participation in the chants is expected. There are some with megaphones. They call. We respond.
At first the group is timid. I’m scared, too, because I have never been in a march. But it’s interesting to think that we are a part of something to be proud of. Soon enough, the crowd grows loud, and responses are now barks and roars. Hearing everyone around me, the yelling becomes contagious and empowering, I yell as well, and at times, I want to be the loudest. I even take charge and I call out, and the rest of the marchers respond.
First it was fun, then after a few minutes, in the middle of hundreds of calls and responses, I realize that I am doing something important. It has a meaning, a purpose, and for the right reasons. Maybe the reason is tuition equity, drivers’ licenses, Social Security, or even full citizenship.
Think about it like this: you are a student who simply wants to be successful in the United States. You have potential and sometimes guidance that can make a career a reality. You are a role model student. The time comes for college, the armed forces, or the work force. Since you are undocumented, you do not have Social Security, which eliminates most of your scholarship opportunities, and there is no financial aid, either. The state you have lived in for most your life now treats you like an outsider and stranger. Your parents didn’t have the fortune of being educated in the United States and don’t know how to get around as well as you, because they are not as well-spoken in English. Going to a school in another country might be easier, you figure, but it’s more difficult over there than in the states. It seems to be that your hopes and dreams have vanished.
Before the march, I thought my problems were just that: mine. I thought I had to keep silent, keep it to myself. I learned that there are compassionate people that want to help you. A community is much happier and stronger when you are added to the mix. We are individuals, but we stand next to each other.
Cruz A. Núñez-Jiménez is a member of the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.