By Jacky Guerrero, OneNationCA.org
The following is an update from a blogger on the One Nation Working Together California “Blog Mobile,” an RV full of bloggers driving from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., chronicling the stories of working Americans they meet along the way. The trip is sponsored in part by SEIU United Long Term Care Workers. For more, visit: OneNationCa.org
Coming Out Strong
Coming out was one of the hardest things Viridiana Hernandez, a 19-year-old student from Grand Canyon University, has had to do.
It has been nearly a year since she was able to openly tell her college professor that she has no legal status as a student in the U.S.
“I am undocumented and unafraid,” Hernandez said proudly while camping out in front of the Phoenix offices of Sen. John McCain for the 11th day in a row.
Hernandez is a member of the “DREAM Army,” a group of a dozen-plus student-activists, most of them undocumented, who are advocating the passage of the federal DREAM [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors] Act, a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have spent the majority of their lives in the states.
(See pictures from the day we spent among the DREAM Army)
Hernandez says she is taking part in the demonstration because she was no longer willing to live what was, essentially, a lie.
“A lot of times, I wasn’t myself around my friends because I wasn’t being honest to them with who I was,” said Hernandez, who was brought to the U.S. at the age of 5 by her mother who was escaping an abusive marriage.
Now Hernandez, who currently holds a 4.0 in her Secondary Education major, and who has to pay $20,000 in tuition every year, has dedicated her life to being an activist and a guiding mentor for other undocumented students.
“Being undocumented has been a gift to me because it has gotten me very involved,” Hernandez said. “I often wonder if I hadn’t been in this situation would I have been as involved?”
The Obstacles Never Stop Coming
Hernandez was 16 years old and browsing for colleges when she first felt the true impact of her undocumented status. It was the one time when Hernandez really considered abandoning her dreams.
She says her high school counselor, who advised many undocumented students, told her college would be a waste of her time since she wouldn’t be able to use her degree in any job that required legal working status.
“I felt horrible,” Hernandez said. “He was my counselor … so at that moment I believed what he said.”
Hernandez ended up turning down a full-ride scholarship from a public university because the scholarship required her to be a legal resident. And despite this heartbreaking setback, she maintained a 4.4 GPA, graduated fifth in her high school class, and enrolled in a private university that provided her with enough scholarship money that she has been able to afford the supplemental, out-of-pocket fees.
And incidentally, she has filed several complaints about her high school guidance counselor, but she says no action has been taken.
Living in Constant Paranoia
Anti-immigrant sentiments are running high in Arizonza these days. Hernandez says that if her mother stays out later than usual, Hernandez begins to worry that she might have been detained and deported — especially if her mother has her siblings with her.
“My brothers and sisters are scared of the police,” said Hernandez, who has witnessed her siblings' panic at the sight of a police patrol car.
To the contrary, however, Hernandez says that local police have been supportive of the efforts of the DREAM Army camped outside McCain’s office. As has the senator, for that matter. Staffers from his office even offered them snacks at one point.
Strengthening Their Hope
This civil rights movement will never be forgotten, said Hernandez, who plans on fighting for immigrant rights even after the DREAM Act is passed.
“It [the immigration movement] is tied to us, if we just stopped fighting after the DREAM Act is passed, than all I have done is worthless.”
Jacky Guerrero is a community organizer for the Latino Equality Alliance, a grassroots LGBT organization based in Los Angeles, and is one of the founders of xQsi magazine, a Latin@ LGBT Web magazine.
Jacky Guerrero / oneNationCA.org
Viridiana Hernandez,19, stands in front of the “DREAM Army” tent, a sit-in demonstration outside the Phoenix offices of Sen. John McCain aimed at pressuring him into supporting the DREAM Act immigration bill.