By Mariana D. Zamboni
USA -- Just three years ago, my friends and I gathered a compilation of different stories of undocumented immigrant students and titled it, "Underground Undergrounds: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out." Three years later, I stand amazed at their overt activism for they, we, are no longer underground.
The purpose of this writing is double-fold. First, I want to uplift and commend my undocumented immigrant community for their efforts in the advocacy for the passage of the federal DREAM Act.
Secondly, as a former undocumented immigrant, I want to share what I have been able to accomplish the last couple of years after having found a path to legalize my immigration status after living in the shadows of America for 17 years.
I first migrated to Los Angeles when I was 6 Â½ years old -- I came from Guatemala to reunite with my mother. By the time I was ready to attend college, I received financial and emotional support from many. It "took a whole village" to help me graduate.
The almost unbearable obstacles presented to many undocumented youth are disheartening and psychologically depressing. Yet two things always inspired hope and allowed us to push forward: knowing that knowledge gained from an education is something no one can take away and that, eventually, immigration reform will pass.
I received my residency card in the mail in April 2007. My family and I were able to qualify under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA). We had been undocumented for almost two decades. My family paid taxes since they first arrived in 1988 (unlike many xenophobic myths that exist, undocumented immigrants do pay taxes) and overall are good moral individuals.
Mariana interacts with preschoolers as part of her duties as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
In March 2007, a month before receiving my residency card, I received an e-mail from Harvard Graduate School of Education congratulating me on my acceptance. Although I was elated and stunned, I realized that attending Harvard would not be feasible if I did not have my legal residency card.
The timing of things, one can say, was just perfect. Being a legal resident allowed me to qualify for monetary assistance which gave me access to attend that prestigious institution.
During my graduate studies, I was also recognized and presented with an Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.
But, as a young girl growing up in America, my dream was not to attend Harvard -- my biggest desire was to one day meet my biological father.
My parents did not keep in touch after they separated when I was two. So, all I ever had was a name and a couple of shared memories.
No picture. No family tree information. No address. No phone. I longed to return to my home country to one day search for him, but without a legal residency card accomplishing that dream was next to impossible.
Being a legal resident allowed me to search for my biological father, meet him and other family members for the first time.
After enjoying the privilege of traveling, I now felt inspired to sign up for the Peace Corps. But when I looked over the application, I noticed I did not qualify. The Peace Corps is only open to US citizens (one must be a legal residency cardholder for 5 years before one is allowed to take the citizenship test).
After being a little disappointed, I decided to join a similar program called AmeriCorps. The US-based program is open to both US citizens and legal residency cardholders.
I did my one-year placement for Jumpstart, an early literacy organization. I donated over 1,700 hours of volunteer work with parents and children living in Bayview and Visitacion Valley in the Bay Area.
Being a legal resident allowed me to join AmeriCorps and contribute my time, education, talents, heart and passion to America's future and contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty in these communities.
I know I am a walking DREAM. So many undocumented immigrant students deserve the opportunities I have been granted.
I know they dream of continuing their education. They dream of reuniting with family members back in their homeland; they long to contribute their time, education, talents, heart and passion to the home that, perhaps did not conceive us, but raised us -- the US.
I now dream this will become a reality one day, soon.