Today, I read the first person account of someone that could have his entire life upended and turned upside down by the destruction of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). As we live through each one of the parade of heinous actions by Donald Trump that demonstrate not just a clear lack of concern or empathy toward the real human lives damaged or destroyed by those actions, but in fact – a desire to target them specifically, I understand how important it is to not just raise a voice in defiance, but to do something concrete to block the worst people in this country from lashing out and hurting more and more people that look or behave differently than they do. This is a President that acts to satisfy the desires of the worst elements in our country – a frustrated, angry, and bitter portion of our population that doesn’t look to better their own lives as much as they want to tear down others, due to the fact that they don’t understand them, they believe in a different faith, or they simply are a different color. They are people among us that feel they are owed something, that believe equality means them first and everyone of a different color second, and different sexual orientation, never.
In short, they are people that should not be catered to. But they have been. The moment they do not get first in line, the moment they, themselves, are out of work, the moment they are not prioritized, or they are remotely inconvenienced, then there is no greater victim. We hear stories upon stories of how they are suffering, with none of them having the self-awareness that EVERYONE suffers in economic downturns, that EVERYONE has to deal with a manufacturing economy disappearing, EVERYONE took a hit in the economic crisis of 2008. Not one of them gets the concept that people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, WOMEN, have all dealt with the same lack of jobs, the same troubles with health care, the same crises the country’s problems have dealt them – except they have suffered all of that ON TOP of systemic racism, IN ADDITION to ingrained sexism, violence direct or implied, opportunities more quickly denied, the idea that anyone can achieve anything in this country regardless of color, gender – a big, fat, lie. Our friends and our neighbors that are included in those groups can “see your problems, and raise you three times more” when they lay their cards on the table. FACT.
So, it seems the only way to get through to people is to personalize what is happening in this country. Racist white people that wanted Trump to instantly deport every single undocumented person (12 million or so), suddenly are astounded when the friendly restaurant owner that was such a good friend is cast out of the country. “But he’s one of the good ones!” Is the lament. Our country has devolved into a place where if it doesn’t affect you personally, then it becomes rarer and rarer that you care. The conservative political creed for the most part is “I’ve got mine, so F-you.” That is what runs our country currently, and the dismantling of DACA, the plan to kick the DREAMers out of the country is part of that.
And it is incredibly short-sighted. It runs completely counter to anyone that actually cares about the health and wealth of our country (beyond our own), because it aims to remove the best of this country, its design is to eliminate everyone – regardless of whether or not they have worked hard, and achieved greatly, in their time within our borders. It ignores their desire and their track records in being contributing members of our society. They truly have the American spirit, they represent what it is supposed to mean to be an American, they just don’t have the American documentation. It has no concern about their potential, it sees no prospective future and how they could literally “better” the United States.
No, it only sees color. It only sees race. Like the racist Congressman of Iowa, Steve King, it only sees a brown people that he thinks should be day laborers and nothing more.
My assumption, if you are reading this, and you know me, is that I’m preaching to the choir. But maybe I’m not. And maybe you don’t get it yet. If so, then I invite you to read the first person account of a colleague. He is a journalist and has covered my film festivals. I didn’t know his status. What’s more, I could not have cared less if I had. I know he is new to the circuit, and I have been very impressed by his coverage and his efforts to write more, cover more, and actually BE a journalist and not just go through the motions. We need more of him.
And right now, he is scared. And he should be. But so should I, and so should you. Because he represents what we should be promoting, not pushing away. Read what he has to say, and then you tell me that you don’t want him in this country.
Because I’ll tell you that I don’t want my country to be a place that would reject someone like this guy.
First off, I want to apologize for tagging you in this post. I know that some of you have explicitly told me not to do that, but I promise this is the very last time. I hope you understand why I’m appealing to your attention.
Sometimes when it comes to social justice issues it might be difficult for people to care for a cause when they don’t know anyone directly affected by it. It might become an abstraction, and though we can understand the difficulties and suffering of others, these issues might seem distant.
Today I want to ask for your help in fighting for my right to live and work in this country, as well as that of more than 800,000 people. I’m a DACA recipient. I’m a DREAMer. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program that president Obama implement in 2012 to give undocumented young people who came to this country as children and teens a chance to work legally and live without fear.
This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever posted here. I hope you won’t fault me for being unprofessional or too emotional. This is one of the heaviest crosses I’m forced to bear every day. I’m fearful to share this publicly, but I know that being silent is the worst thing I can do right now. I also apologize in advance, as I don’t presume to know your political views and maybe you are against DACA. Still, I’d like to tell you my story.
For a long time and because of fear, I’ve never discussed my immigration status openly. I’m afraid that my colleagues and friends will see me differently or that opportunities will fade way because of it. Thanks to DACA I’ve been able to make a career as a freelance writer, a screenplay reader, and a festival screener. I’ve been able to work legally, to travel within the US, and to live more of a normal life.
DACA is not amnesty. It offers NO path to citizenship or to becoming a permanent resident. It also doesn’t allow me to travel abroad freely, and though it might seem frivolous, this has been very though to wrap my head around. I’ve had to reject countless invitations to attend international festivals and events because of my status. I always find myself in the embarrassing and sad position of half explaining people why I can’t attend or travel outside the US. Perhaps in another line of work this might not be imperative, but in the path I’ve chosen it’s a constant reminder that there are still limitations to my dreams.
Still, if it weren’t for DACA I would still be in the shadows and wouldn’t be able to do half the things I’m able to do now.
Let me tell you about my life before DACA. I came to the US when I was in my early teens. I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Mexico City to a poor family. We had very limited resources, there was never enough money for basic necessities, but there was alcoholism and domestic abuse. I guess you don’t realize how poor your family is until you have even a little more. I was always a good student and I always loved movies – more than anything. And though my mom would never tell me that dreaming of working in film was unrealistic, I knew that it was unlikely for someone like me to aspire to that.
When I finished middle school, my parents knew that it would be very difficult for them to help me get any more education. Financially it wasn’t a possibility to support my brother and help me go to high school, much less any further. My aunt in Los Angeles offered to bring me, take me in, and at least put me through high school. Perhaps my mother also did it to take me out of the domestic abuse situation we lived in. I thank her as I know it was also very difficult for her.
I moved to LA knowing that it would be years before I would get to see my mom or my younger brother again. I didn’t speak a word of English back then.
I started high school soon after. I worked hard to learn English and within a year I went through all ESL levels and I was put into English-only classes. I went to a mostly Latino high school but even there people made fun of my accent and the fact that I’m an immigrant. A couple years later I started working at a fast food place, the only job anyone in my situation could get nearby. I worked there for 7 years, right until the very day my DACA application got approved. I would probably still be there if it wasn’t for DACA. It’s an honest job, but not where my dreams are.
I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA, I was Salutatorian in a class of 1000 kids, and I had made short films that won awards at local festivals. I worked 5 days a week after school and until 2 or 3 in the morning throughout high school. Even as irrational as it was at that point, I never gave up thinking that one day I could work in film.
I got accepted into Cal Arts and Chapman for their Film Production programs, but I couldn’t attend because I didn’t qualify for financial aid or loans. Still, I knew that the community college in Pasadena offered a little film program. East LA College was way closer, but I wanted to study film even if it was at a community college far away. I took the bus everyday to Pasadena from Cudahy in South LA, went to work in the fast food place till late at night, and then came home and did homework. I paid for every single class I ever took there. I’m not special in this regard. Most young people in my situation know similar struggles. I don’t know what force in me told me anything I was doing made any sense, but I kept on.
See, for people in my situation there is no guarantee that you’ll ever get a job even if you study hard. We go to school and we persevere while living in uncertainty.
I’m not fearless. Throughout the years I’ve experienced lots of anxiety and terrible sadness wondering if anything I was doing was worth it. I didn’t see my brother for nearly 10 years. By the time he was able to get a visa to visit me he was a grown up. That has been difficult to say the least. My grandmother, who I adored, died when I was in my late teens and I couldn’t attend her funeral. Still, I kept telling myself this was my only chance for a better future.
DACA was approved the same month I graduated from Pasadena City College with an AA. At that point I was already writing a personal blog about movies and I had worked on some more short films. When it got approved I got an internship at Strand Releasing. It was a dream. It was an unpaid internship, but one of the experiences to which I owe most of my successes. That led into me getting an internship at the Sundance Institute. A kid from a poor Mexican neighborhood without a college degree from a fancy school became an intern at Sundance. It was one of the most incredible days of my life. I wrote for many films sites and started going to festivals, doing interviews, and writing more and more.
One day Sydney Levine read one of my articles and invited me to write on her blog on Indiewire. Then came the life-changing shot of being part of the first class of Roger Ebert Fellows and go to Sundance. And from that moment on I’ve worked and worked relentlessly, flawed many times, but always thankful.
Along the way there have been countless, truly amazing people who have supported me and continue to believe in me. These people saw something in me beyond my background and my circumstances. These incredible, generous, loving, and talented people changed my life and to all of them I’m beyond thankful. I’m sure most of you are reading this. I owe you all so much.
In the 5 years since DACA was approved I’ve written for publications that I read and admired for years, I’ve seen my name on movie posters, on trailers, and magazines. I’ve attended numerous festivals, interviewed personal heroes, and done more than I ever would have thought possible.
Maybe we are friends, we have been co-workers, I’ve covered your films, or you’ve read something I’ve written, whatever the case, I hope you consider that perhaps I deserve the chance to keep working and doing what I truly love in this country. As Trump’s decision announcement approaches, I have to keep hope that even if DACA ends, DREAMers won’t be abandoned.
Please help me fight for this chance. Help me fight to protect DACA by speaking out and calling your representatives. I promise you that DACA recipients don’t want a free ride. We’ve never asked for that, all we want is a chance to keep contributing to this country in every field, even film.