I got to sit down with a fellow CUNY Dreamer and friend, Joseline Marin, and I am very excited to share her story. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, "Dreamer" usually refers to youth who were brought here by their parents at a young age and are protected under DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals). Her story is truly full of hope and ambition, as every dreamer's should be. It serves as an example of what each of us hopes to one day achieve.
1. When did you first arrive in the United States and where did you come from? Do you know why your parents decided to migrate to the United States?
I arrived in the United States when I was about 3 and a half years old from Cuenca, Ecuador. Initially, my parents came to work. Because they knew they would be working all of the time I was left in the care of my grandparents while they traveled to New York. They came to the United States with a tourist visa and stayed to work and send money back to Cuenca.
2. How did your family get in the habit of living here? Did they experience any hardships? If so, what were they?
Work was better here and even though they faced difficulties my parents knew that they could form a better future for me and my newborn brother. However, being in New York meant that they were apart from their family and friends. They left behind the life they knew to start a new one with hopes of it being more fruitful. And of course there was the language barrier. They had to learn a new language whether it was in classes offered by the local library, or on the job.
3. Did they ever experience any sort of discrimination over their legal status/ accent/ appearance?
Even once they learned English their accents sometimes caused people to not take them seriously, or to treat them like lesser beings. There were also a few times when someone broke into my father’s car and stole whatever they could. Paranoid that we would be questioned or harassed, my father chose to keep quiet about it.
4. How did you learn English and was that an obstacle for you?
I came to New York at three and a half years old and I started preschool at the age of four. In the six months between arriving and starting school I did not learn much English, so starting school was just as scary as it was exciting. It was hard to learn English when my parents didn’t speak much of it and they too were struggling to be understood. The English that I did learn was from watching cartoons on PBS Kids and listening to adults around me. When my parents and other family members would speak in English I remember always paying close attention and constantly asking que significa eso? (what does that mean?), so that I could connect the two languages. Once I started school, I began to learn English at a faster rate since I was around people who for the most part, only spoke English. Luckily I made friends who spoke English and Spanish and when I couldn’t communicate what I was trying to say, they would help me. By the end of preschool, I was able to speak English somewhat fluently. Even though I spoke English when I entered Kindergarten, it still continued to be an obstacle for me. I still remember being placed into certain reading levels in grade school and always being behind everyone else. When my Ecuadorian accent would come out in my pronunciation, I would get weird looks from those around me.
5. How are you going to college now?
Right now I am going to Hunter College on a scholarship provided by TheDream.US, an organization that provides tuition for undocumented students that are under Deferred Action for Child Arrivals based on grades and economic standing. This scholarship is the reason I can afford to attend a four year college as a full time student.
6. What were your feelings during the college admissions process, considering your legal status?
The college admissions process is stressful for every student. Everyone wants to attend the best school they can, and those around you want to support you in working towards that goal. Being undocumented added another level of stress and uncertainty to an already stressful process. In my high school, we had a specific counselor that helped us with the college process. He always said to apply to the colleges that you want, to not worry about the tuition yet, that the financial aid we would get would help us pay for school, that it can be negotiated. And every time I sat there, kind of laughing, kind of upset because that didn’t apply to me, at all. The stress and fear had started and continued at full force. However, my college counselor already knew me. I was a part of a club based on community service that he ran and I worked as his intern. He knew what kind of student I was, the amount of time and effort that I put into my schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Terrified, I walked into his office for my meeting and told him that I was undocumented and that I didn’t have a social security number. Part of me was prepared to be told that nothing could be done for me, or that I would be on my own because that’s what happens to many undocumented students. He assured me that we were going to work hard to get into good schools and that we would find a way to pay for my tuition. The rest of the college application process was as stressful as it would be for any other student but in the back of my head, I always questioned whether I would even be able to attend theses colleges because of the cost. Then my counselor came across TheDream.US Scholarship. I am so thankful for all of his hard work and I honestly don't know what I would have done without his support. After months of work, stress, anxiety and tears, I had my acceptance to Hunter College along with my Dream.Us scholarship.
7. Did anyone ever discourage you from going to college?
Everyone in my family always told me that I had to do well in school so that I would have a better future. There were some family members who told me to keep my options open for careers that didn’t necessarily require college, but that was the most discouragement I received from family. For most people, the pressure of doing well in school for your future didn’t really kick in until high school. I feel like for an undocumented student, the pressure begins way before that. There’s this pressure unintentionally put on you by your parents from such an early age to do well for yourself and for your future. However, they don’t realize that we also have to do well for them in order to make their sacrifices worth something. I was told, "you have to do well in middle school so you can go to a good high school", "do exceptional in high school so you can go to the best college" and "continue that in college for the rest of your future". This was repeated to me throughout my life but the only one who was doubtful was me. I knew what the cost of attending college was and the last thing I wanted to do was put my parents in debt.
The discouragement I received was from other students. I didn’t go around telling people I was an immigrant but I didn’t hide it either. For some classmates it didn’t matter to them that I was an immigrant but for others it caused them to see me in a different light. I was once told I might never amount to anything because I was an illegal immigrant.Some people felt they were superior to me because they had a different country on their birth certificate than I did.
8. What are your career aspirations?
I am currently studying to enter the nursing program at Hunter College. This program is one of the most competitive programs at Hunter because out of 300 to 400 applicants we are ranked by our GPA and pre-entry test score and only the top 100 are accepted. The pre-requisite courses are also difficult and require a lot of studying time; therefore, socializing is not on my schedule. Even though the work load is high, I know it will be worth it in the end. I am set on a nursing career, and Hunter is the best school for nursing where I won’t graduate with debt. I chose nursing as my career path because I’ve always wanted to follow something in medicine, and the connections that nurses make with their patients drew me in. Community service was always a big part of my life. Helping and caring for others is a part of who I am. Growing up, I always felt as though I was more mature than others around me, and felt like caring for others. Naturally, I took on the responsibility of unconditionally caring for my friends whenever they needed me. It almost feels like nursing fell in place with my personality, and will equip me with the right tools to fight for myself, my family, and my future patients.
9. Have you ever felt any sort of discrimination or racism towards you at your school? If not, how has your experience been overall?
As a recipient of The Dream.US Scholarship and a Hunter student I'm a part of a great community that includes all the other recipients of the scholarship and some Hunter faculty. We all know that there are people out there who probably do not want us to succeed, but with the community we have created, we work together to overcome that negativity.
10. Would you say people at your college are accepting of CUNY immigrants?
There definitely is a community within the college that is very accepting of CUNY immigrants. I think the fact that CUNY works along with this amazing scholarship shows they want us to receive a good education just like any other student.
11. Do you feel like you have to work any differently from others because of your legal status?
I think everyone has to work hard if they want to achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. As an undocumented student, there’s a different set of obstacles that we have to overcome in order to get where we want to be. Because of my legal status, not many opportunities are open to me, and that is something I have learned to live with. It just means I have to be more resourceful such as looking for scholarships to be able to pay for college. We work harder than others in the sense that we have an additional pressure placed on us and different reasons for wanting to be successful. But everyone has their own story and their own obstacles.
12. What are your thoughts on the current presidential elections?
The current presidential elections are frustrating. A republican president would be a bad thing for anyone that is an immigrant for in the United States. They spread negative stereotypes about immigrants and promote racism and discrimination towards us. The reality is that there are bad people in every racial and cultural group and sadly will never change but to assume everyone in a community is a criminal is just outrageous. And then there’s the fear of Donald Trump. It baffles me that there are so many educated people who support him. He works off of the ridiculous fears that people have and gives equally ridiculous “solutions.” It’s frustrating to not be able to vote even when I have lived in New York practically my entire life. Elections impact me in the same way they do everyone else and even more now that immigration is a popular topic, but my voice won’t be heard in the ballots when Election Day comes around. But that doesn’t mean my voice won’t be heard at all.
13. When you go out into the streets, do you feel unsafe?
Because of the elections, there have been many more people who are openly hateful and think it's okay to incite violence. It does make me feel a bit unsafe to voice my opinions. You know, there will always be hatred in the world, but living in fear and not speaking out will only make room for more hatred. I think this fear we all feel should be viewed as sort of a driving force because no one should be attacked or harassed on the basis of their skin color or any different quality for that matter.
14. Tell me about a time you were discriminated against because of your appearance.
There have been a few instances where I have been discriminated against because I am Hispanic. I’m not going to use names. I was once accused of stealing after this person took one look at me. People have assumed I don’t speak English. Some have talked down to me because they believed my being an immigrant made me inferior to them. I have been experiencing things like these ever since elementary school.
15. If you could choose whether or not to be an immigrant, would you choose not to be one? Why or why not?
Not being an immigrant would make my life easier, but I would not change this fact. Being an immigrant has helped shaped the person I've become. My experience as an immigrant has taught me to be compassionate towards people and to always be humble. It has also taught me that the world has many negative and hateful voices, and that I have to oppose with positivity. As an undocumented student, I have a platform for my voice to be heard and the resources to make a change and fight for those whose voices cannot be heard.
After getting to know Joseline's story, the word "Dreamer" no longer seems fitting. It implies our goals are unrealistic when in actuality, we are working toward making these "dreams" into realities. The hatred Joseline speaks of is what drives us to work harder and provide a life for ourselves instead of, as some would say, "relying on others." It honestly is amazing to me how so many people refuse to see incredibly talented immigrants such as Joseline, working non-stop towards a better future.