Not the Perfect Dreamer, but That’s Okay (non-fiction essay)
By Nancy Meza
Nancy, is human being born in Jalisco, Mexico raised in East Los Angeles. She attended East Los Angeles community college then transferred to UCLA where she graduated with a degree in Chicana/o studies and Labor and Workplace Studies minor. She is currently a member of Dream Team Los Angeles
This weekend, as my friends and I made our Saturday night party rounds, we found ourselves at our friend’s house in East L.A, where I ran into a friend we went to high school with. She is an undocumented mother of four beautiful children. She came up to me and expressed how proud of Dreamers she was, how although the President’s action was a small step, it was something in the right direction. Although the details of deferred action for eligible Dreamers are not out yet and this policy is something she may not benefit from, she was proud of the fight for immigrant rights that we have been pushing for. She even thanked me for not giving up.
Personally, seeing and connecting with my undocumented friends who are not the “picture perfect” Dreamers is what keeps me grounded, since they are so much like me. Many of the undocumented people I know from East L.A have to work to support themselves and their families. They are parents. When I bring new friends around, the first questions that come out of their mouths are not “Where did you go to school? Where do you work?” as asked in many “Dreamer” circles too often, which bugs me.
Although I have shared my story many times, a detail often forgotten is that I barely graduated from high school. My family was homeless the majority of the time I was in school, and the biggest obstacle in my life was figuring out where I was going to sleep each night. Throughout high school, I hung out with punk rockers whom many would see as “outcasts,” but the thing about East L.A. is that everyone grows up together; very few people move out, so many of us have known each other since elementary school. By the time we reach high school, it doesn’t really matter what clique you belong to since you have known some of your classmates since elementary school. So, the bonds people in East L.A. build are strong ones, especially for me since my friends in high school were my rock. Many of these friends were also undocumented, but that was just one of the many obstacles we had to deal with on a daily basis.
In East L.A., there is such a strong sense of community that if one of us “makes” it, the whole community shares in that pride. As I was talking to someone who would potentially benefit from deferred action, he mentioned that he was looking forward to the opportunity to “catch up” to his friends from college who he always felt judged by as they “ advanced” and moved higher and higher in their careers. He asked if I felt the same way. My response was a very stern NO!
I am one of the few people from my friends who had the opportunity to go to college. We know that the degree a person holds does not define them, and to be quite honest, we find people who flaunt their college degrees somewhat annoying. My friends and I do not judge each other on who has the “best” job. We are happy that most of us are employed. We have all seen one too many friends go through a period of unemployment and when that happens, we help each other out. If we want to go somewhere as a group, we spot each other as a joke, knowing that our friends will spot us if we are broke and really need it.
I began at a community college not because I could not afford to go to the super Ivy League school that accepted me, but because my grades were not all that great. Attending East Los Angeles Community College was the second opportunity at an education I needed and I took it. When I transferred to UCLA, the reaction from my friends was intense. For them, it was amazing to see someone from East L.A attending this school that was so “prestigious”. For me, it was almost my duty to represent East L.A in an institution we were told we could never attend. Once I transferred to UCLA, I had a hard time connecting with the students there. I could not wait to come back home. During my entire time at UCLA, I did not forget about my neighborhood. I can also say I was able to shatter many of the stereotypes people had of East L.A. and of Bruins.
My involvement in fighting for immigrant rights has not been nor will ever be to gain professional mobility. It truly is a fight to gain the respect and dignity we as an immigrant community deserve. I understand that professional recognition might be important to some people, but when I think of my community and the undocumented people who are working to sustain themselves and their beautiful families every day, I know that the fight is greater. I also know that many of them are not and do not aspire to be this perfect “Dreamer” stereotype that has been manufactured.
What I am trying to say is that when I am around my East L.A. undocumented community, I feel so grounded and I am thankful to have them in my life. Although they might not attend any Dream Team meetings, are currently fighting for ways to get their GED to hopefully qualify for prosecutorial discretion, and are taking care of the children they had at a young age, they are the most hardworking, motivated, honest and grounded people I know. I am glad to have people in my life who do not judge each other on how far we have been able to “climb” this perceived social latter. Although we might not see each other often, we take time to know each other outside of the Dreamer box of “Where did you go to school?” That stuff can seem so meaningless when you have deep personal relationships and respect one another through the good and bad times.