Footprints that Led to my Undocumented Graduation

By Sofia Campos,

Sofia is a UCLA graduate and active member with IDEAS and DREAM Team Los Angeles.

I came to this country when I was six from Lima, Peru. During my senior year of high school my parents finally had to tell me our family was undocumented. Since then, I learned what it feels like to take four busses for four hours every day to get to school because I don’t have the option of getting a driver’s license; I learned what it feels like to be called an “illegal” and be dehumanized by people I have never met; and I learned what it feels like to become empowered within a community that is constantly being told we are not worthy of having equal rights.

Regardless of immigration status, I am one of many who struggle to afford an education, a job, and to fight for our rights as students, workers, and as human beings. Attaining an undergraduate degree is an enormous privilege. Personally, it’s taken me five years after taking quarters off for not being able to pay what is now a $5,000 quarter tuition at UCLA. I’ve worked multiple jobs while balancing my studies and applied to hundreds of scholarships so that I can check off “Graduate College” from my To-Do list.

My graduation is a result of the courage my parents used to leave their world seeking a better future for my siblings and me, and the footprints left by giants who came before me and began our immigrant youth movement. Giants like Tam and Cinthya helped establish IDEAS at UCLA, the undocumented student support group on campus, and were the first undocumented graduate students at Brown and Columbia University. Seeing someone go through a similar struggle as me and make it to Ivy League graduate schools allowed me to believe the impossible is possible—it allowed me to believe in myself. Our stories and the footprints left by the giants who came before us serve as daily reminders that no one can erase my dreams from my To-Do list but me.

I’d like to share a special memory with you, and I ask you to pause and picture yourself in a small, cozy living room. It’s a room you’ve gathered in many times before and you are there with about ten other friends–many of them old colleagues from years ago. On that Saturday when Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix were involved in a car accident during their road trip in Rhode Island, many generations of our IDEAS family congregated at the cabin in Westwood to wait out the hours together. We’d learned Cinthya had died instantly, and we were told Tam was in critical condition. We were restless and completely lost as to what to do with ourselves. Someone brought fried chicken because it was Tam and Cinthya’s favorite, but all we could do was relive the memories we had with them. When we received word about Tam’s death, we found ourselves even more lost. That’s when Kent and his wife Jai showed up at the door with boxes and boxes of pizza. We were all standing around the room, not hungry in the least but grateful for the comfort food and the love that they brought in with them. We seemed to pause simultaneously and became still, together.

This is one of the most vivid and meaningful memories of my life. I share this with you because this is the kind of love present in our immigrant youth movement and in our larger movement for social justice. Despite the hatred and injustice we confront every day, coming out of the shadows and using our voices has brought forth a united community that knows love through struggle. This is how I know we will make our dreams into realities and why I will continue to proclaim the words, Undocumented and Unafraid.

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