By Thailandia Alaffita
Just last month I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had reached what one may describe as a standstill, a sort of complacent state of being – the kind of feeling one might experience when you can no longer say you’re only working at this restaurant during the summer while you graduate and get your degree. A feeling of defeat.
I was 17 years old and getting ready to graduate high school when I first learned of the DREAM Act and became active in the movement. I always knew I was undocumented, but I never knew that this would be the determining factor of whether I would be able to go to college, whether I would to be able to pay for school, and later whether I would be successful or not – I always thought that would be determined by my own merits and hard work, not because of a 9-digit number or the lack thereof.
HB 1403, now SB 1528, gave me the opportunity to go to college and pay in-state tuition in Texas and apply for state financial aid regardless of my immigration status. Although it was difficult to digest the multiple rejections of scholarships and other perks that should have come easy, I still managed to get enough scholarships and financial aid to cover tuition for 4 years at one of the most prestigious universities in Texas. I was sure that in four years the administration and the rest of the country would pass the DREAM Act – in my eyes it was the only thing to do. Four years later, we got very close during the lame duck session. I even traveled to Washington, D.C. along with other DREAMers to lobby to our representatives and watch history be made. That December, hopes all across the country died a little. We had done everything in our power not only to be good citizens, but also to pass the DREAM Act and nothing happened.
I stayed another year in college, I was sure then that something would happen in that year and when I graduated that I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a job. The reality was a different one, I graduated and although I wanted to teach with all my heart, and the school I always dreamed of teaching at could very well use me, I couldn’t be hired. That in itself was a low blow; I had done everything right, followed all the rules, been the best I could be and for the first time I was hitting a barrier I could not overcome. I was not invincible.
I graduated in May of 2011, and for this entire year, I literally felt my soul and spirit dying every day I was not able to use my degree. Some things helped, I tutored and those kids helped me stay alive I’m sure, and the multiple events with other immigrant youth definitely helped raise my hopes, but at the end of the day I was still not where I envisioned myself to be post graduation.
As a little girl, I didn’t dream up the perfect wedding, and I didn’t dream up prince charming, or fame and money. The one thing that I dreamed of days on end was how my classroom was going to look. My favorite store to go to was the teacher supply store, where I would make a mental note of the posters I wanted to have hanging on my classroom walls. I started buying books early on so that I would have a decent collection to have in my classroom for my future students. It had been a year since I stored that thought in the deepest confines of my brain to never be thought of again.
Last month, when I watched the President speak and give the news that he would finally be granting us administrative relief, I think I stopped breathing and my heart skipped a beat. The news reporters wanted to know what this meant to us, how this made us feel, what we were going to do now. The answers to these questions came later; I’m not sure what everyone else’s first thought was, but for me, it crept up like it had just been waiting for the right moment. The idea of having my own classroom full of kids eager to learn. That’s what came first. Not how I would get there, not whether I would, but how it would look when I did.
Although this is not the DREAM Act we have been fighting for during the past decade, and although elections are right around the corner, I am taking this as a step in good faith, that when the cause is good, sooner or later everyone will see it. This came when I needed it the most, when I was just about ready to give up. I’m sure I speak for many when I say I feel I am a bit freer than I was before June 15th. It is important to understand that this is not the DREAM Act and that the struggle is not over; rest assured, we will continue pushing for what is right and for what is just. Except now we will be able to do it knowing that our peaceful efforts have not gone unnoticed; that justice is on our side.