No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla: Temporary Protected Status

Illustration by Maria Renteria.

The recent passing of the California Dream Act is a victory to many undocumented students giving financial aid to all students. Despite this victory, there are students outside of these two categories.

Liliana Leon, a second-year comparative literature student, has lived in the US since she was five months old. She came with her mother through political asylum that was granted to her when she fled El Salvador due to persecution.

She had the typical Latino American life growing up with her two younger siblings who are both citizens. Liliana was not fully aware that she wasn’t a citizen in the country she has called home.

In 2001, her mother was already trying to get Liliana out of asylum by applying for residency through her grandfather. In 2006, she realized that she was not a citizen. Her mother told her that their political asylum was going to be negated because the government would decide that the threat to her mother was not imminent. They would become undocumented if they didn’t find another alternative.

Immediately Liliana and her mother applied for Temporary Protected Status to remain in this country. Her mother believed that having Temporary Protected Status would be much better than being undocumented, because her daughter would not have to struggle. However, Liliana never foresaw the problems this new knowledge or her new legal status would bring her.

Temporary Protected Status, commonly known as TPS, was created under the Immigration Act of 1990. TPS allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant temporary immigration status to residents from selected countries that face environmental disasters, armed conflicts or extreme temporary conditions. Currently, these countries include El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Individuals with TPS are in the country legally and do not have to fear deportation by the government. However, they are not a legal resident or citizen of the US and have no opportunity through TPS to obtain residency or citizenship.

“From the stories I’ve heard it’s difficult to be in TPS because there is not a lot of information on it. [Other undocumented students] assume TPS individuals have more rights or privileges and it creates divisions,” said Professor Leisy Abrego of the UCLA César E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o studies.

They are allowed to work and pay taxes but do not receive any government aid, including financial aid to attend a university. Individuals on TPS have to continuously make sure their paper work is in order. They renew their application every nine to twelve months paying $515 to get a piece of paper stating they have Employment Authorization.

Lawyers have not been able to help Liliana and her mother pursue residency under TPS. They have now gone through two different lawyers who have taken their payment without furthering their application through the immigration system.

Almost everyday Liliana faces trouble due to the complexity of her status. She has to explain countless times what it means to have TPS.

This becomes difficult when dealing with office workers from the Registrar’s Office and the

Financial Aid Office have never heard of TPS. This was especially true when applying to UCLA, paying for UCLA and applying for scholarships. Liliana has no way to label her situation. On official documents, there is no box to check for TPS. On her UCLA student file, it says residency pending. Several times she has had to argue with the Financial Aid office to not charge her out-of-state fees.

When the California Dream Act passed, Liliana was hopeful that she would be able to receive financial aid previously unavailable to undocumented students. However, these scholarships, including one from UCLA Academic Advancement Program (AAP), are only available for students with AB 540 status.

When I interviewed AAP assistant director Chante Henderson, she stated that AAP will award scholarships to an estimated 70 students, each with a value of $2,500. However, since Liliana’s UCLA status says residency pending, she does not meet the qualifications of the scholarship.

Liliana will still apply for the scholarship, but there is no guarantee she will be given one.

“The Financial Aid Office said they had to be AB 540. It had to be a quick turnaround to give the scholarships but in the future, when there is more time to organize, it will hopefully change in the future for other statuses,” Henderson said.

The director of the UCLA Financial Aid Office Ronald Johnson echoed the same sentiments when asked about students with TPS and financial aid.

“The financial aid office is only designating scholarships for AB-540 students. If she has AB-540 on an application, she should be able to apply. We are trying to help students who are undocumented. Since I am not an immigration specialist, I am not sure how financial aid will work. There is a really fine line and she may be eligible,” Johnson said.

Henderson and Johnson hope that the financial aid process will become open to more statuses in the future. Despite the passing of the California Dream Act, both individuals were not previously aware of TPS and how it affects obtaining financial aid.

Recently, the Registrar’s Office has asked Liliana to re-clarify her residency status for winter quarter. Under TPS regulation, she can claim AB 540 status. An action that Liliana is considering in order to avoid the confusion of her residency as well as make it easier to apply for scholarships.

“I have to show my work authorization card to co-workers so they can see I have a legitimate status and every time I apply for a scholarship or other jobs the question about my legal status pops up and every time I become self-conscious of how different I am.”

When I asked associate registrar Cathy Lindstrom via email about statistics regarding UCLA students with TPS, she responded that UCLA does not keep records of students with this status. Their residence deputies have not dealt with students of this status for the last year.

When I interviewed Liliana, she expressed a common sentiment many Latinos feel,

“No soy de aqui, ni soy de alla,” as composer Facundo Cabral once said.

“I feel I am being labeled as an outsider. Not just because I was born in another country and have a different cultural experience from everyone else, but I am physically being labeled and targeted as different,” said Liliana.

Her citizenship may belong to El Salvador, but in her own opinion she has no connection other than her mother to her native country. She has lived in the US her whole life, but she cannot claim American citizenship.

If for some reason their TPS is not renewed they will become undocumented and easily deported because ICE has records of them.

“I’ve heard of many cases where individuals with TPS who are one day late with their renewal application are immediately deported because the government has all their information,” said Professor Abrego.

For Liliana, it leaves her struggling to figure out how to pay for school without any aid, having to commute and work long hours, as well as having to justify herself to people who do not understand.

“My situation is so obscure I feel a bit marginalized because people label things. Either you are here legally or you are not. They don’t see the gray area that immigration system has created. They don’t understand that they can’t send you back because you feel political persecution but at the same time they don’t want you, so they put you in a marginalized place where you don’t have a lot of political representation.”

Are immigrants finally California dreamin’ their way into college?

Illustration by Jonathan Horcasitas.

Imagine that you immigrated to California when you were ten years old. You have attended California schools, taken all of the same classes and teachers as any other US citizen.  You are the top of your class and getting ready to apply for college…when you come to a disturbing halt. You can’t apply for college. Why? Well, there is absolutely no way that you or your family can afford it, and you don’t qualify for financial aid because you aren’t an US citizen.

Now, visualize the heart-break and frustration that these hard-working students must feel who can’t improve their future because they can’t go to college. Society today has taught us that a college education, more importantly a college degree, will ensure a bright and stable future. However, what happens to the immigrants who work hard in high school and are stopped short of their dreams and future?

To put it simply, nothing happens. Thousands of immigrant students don’t go farther than high school, and cannot overcome the socio-economic barriers without a college education.

It is a known fact that college is difficult. It is difficult to get accepted, difficult to graduate, and most importantly, difficult to afford.  As a result of the recession and growing debt, college has gotten even more impossible to get into – especially in California.

As a transfer student, I have experienced the overflowing classrooms and tuition hikes at my community college in Sacramento. Luckily, I spent countless days and hours ensuring that I took all of the necessary steps to make it to the university of my dreams. But, I couldn’t have accomplished this without the help of financial aid.  As a result of the financial aid I received, primarily grants, it helped me to accomplish my goals and pursue a higher education. Therefore, it brings me to the question: what source of aid do immigrants receive? The answer is: nothing, nada, zip.

However, October 8th, 2011 marked a pivotal moment in history for immigrant students in California. The California Dream Act has been a hot topic since July 2011 when Gov. Jerry Brown originally signed the first half of the bill. Now that Gov. Brown has signed the second component of the California Dream Act, the future of immigrant students will be changing dramatically in the coming years.

According to the Los Angeles Times, illegal immigrants that are accepted by state universities will now be eligible to receive financial aid through Cal-Grants. Additionally, students attending the colleges in California will be eligible for grants and fee waivers. However, this act is not set to go in effect until 2013.

Although the California Dream Act appears to be a wonderful program for the improvement of immigrant students, there are many opposed to it.  There is a belief that this act will attract even more people to immigrate here for an education.  In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly stated, “We have just created a new entitlement that is going to cause tens of thousands of people to come here illegally from all over the world.”

The Los Angeles Times states that according to Gov. Brown, an anticipated amount of 2,500 students will be eligible for Cal-Grants. Therefore, only increasing Cal-Grant funds to 14.5 million, which is only about one percent overall of Cal-Grant funds.

In my opinion, this program will benefit California greatly because the top students in California (even if they are immigrants) will be contributing to our society by getting a well deserved education. However, my only question is: what is going to happen to the current immigrant students that are still ineligible for aid for another two years?

It appears that this question has not yet been answered, and it can only be assumed that current students will either have to pay out of pocket for their education, or wait until the California Dream Act has been executed completely so that they too can receive financial aid.

Although the California Dream Act marks a great moment in history for immigrants, it is still not time for grand celebration. The current immigrant students in California are still dealing with the nightmare of being able to afford college, and until 2013, they must patiently wait so they too can be eligible for all of benefits of a US citizen. So, can this act really be a “dream come true,” or is it really just a “dream come 2013?”

A Day in the Life of an Undocumented Student

Photo by Jose Orellano.

Jesson Canul had the opportunity to be adopted, but that meant leaving his family.

Jesson and his parents immigrated to the United States from Yucatan, Mexico when he was two years old.  He had the option to become a US citizen when his middle school teacher Cindy Moriel wanted to adopt him, but in order to get his papers, he had to live with her.

Moriel had good intentions providing Jesson with what he needed, but when his grades started to slip she asked, “Do you want to be like your dad?” His dad was not a criminal and had done nothing wrong. He did not understand why Moriel always brought up his father in a negative way. Jesson knew he did not want to work at a carwash like his dad, but he respected his dad’s strength, determination, and positivity.

Jesson did not appreciate these remarks, rebelling against the path she had set out. Moriel cancelled the process for his adoption and citizenship, and Jesson returned to his family.

6:30 a.m.

Jesson wakes up at home, where he lives with his parents, Rosa Cuk and Mateo Canul, and his siblings, Diana, 17, Alely, 10, Mateo, 7, Valerie, 4, and Dahila, 2.

He remembers his parents talking one night if there would be enough money for the next semester.  Though his family have been limited on money, they have always made his education a priority. “Even though they aren’t educated, they know the importance of education in my life,” said Jesson.

He helps his family by turning his paychecks over to his mother, who does the family’s finances. He realizes that helping his family ultimately helps him.

8 a.m. until 12 p.m.

Every weekday, Jesson helps prepare cases and deal with possible clients by interning for the legal department at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). He learns about civil litigation and law language from the cases he goes through.

“I’ve seen a lot of books on discrimination, but at the internship you get to witness actual people who are being discriminated against,” said Jesson. This affirmed Jesson’s decision to help the community.

12 p.m until 6 p.m.

As Jesson balances working, an internship and school, he keeps his parents in mind. He is thankful for all the sacrifices and support his parents give him.

“Every morning, every time he drops me off at school, every time he sees me doing my homework, he says ‘echale ganas’ and those words are with me every time I write an essay, every time I have a test, every time I’m faced with anything,” said Jesson.

At the California State University of Los Angeles, Jesson studies Criminal Justice with a minor in Woman Studies, a decision that was determined by an event that happened when he was a senior in high school.

His siblings Diana, Alely, and Mateo were coming home from the park when a drunk man grabbed his sister. Fortunately, they were able to get away, but when they got home Jesson heard his sister crying, so he went after the man. When he found him, Jesson got into an altercation and was arrested. Being in court is what incited his curiosity with the criminal justice system.

9 p.m. until 4 a.m.

At night, Jesson is a paid musician at clubs and parties, owing his musical beginnings to his father.

When he was twelve, he was introduced to the accordion, soon after he learned to play from the accordion player in his dad’s band. He remembers practicing until early morning, while waiting for his dad to finish playing music at the clubs.

“Being on stage and watching people sing and dance is a good feeling and makes you want to practice more,” says Jesson.

While Jesson enjoys being a musician, he admits that there are temptations like women, drugs, and alcohol, as well as working late nights and having run-ins with gun shootings and violence. A year and a half ago he and his father created their band Conjunto Libertad. They travel together, since it is convenient and safer, because they can take care of each other.

Jesson realizes that having his legal status fixed would have made his life easier. He questions the kind of person he would have been had he stayed on the path that Moriel had for him. He could not accept the situation he was in, where his family was looked down upon for their lack of education, income, and social status.

Years later when he runs into Moriel, he thanks her for trying and apologizes for rebelling. “It’s taking me a little more time, but I’m learning a lot about myself and what kind of man I want to be.”

Memories Fading on Pico and Union

A picture of the mural in 1990. Courtesey of SPARC.

The paint is peeling and fading on a mural amidst signs in Spanish and local super markets in the barrio community on Pico and Union. The Catholic images and names that are written across mural hint at la historia behind it. Que onda con los nombres? What do they mean? Digging led to Burlington Homeboy and Homegirls Industries, a partial history of Pico and Union, and an art group named Earth Crew.

Touched by the tragic death of one of their friends, the vision of Earth Crew was born. “We all kinda wanted to show the muralists; hey this is what we can do with a spray can. This is what our generation can do,” says Joseph Montalvo.

Better known to his Earth Crew members as Nuke, Montalvo is a graffiti writer who tells a story through the power of his can as well as a muralist of Boyle Heights. Behind a strip mall on Pico and Union in 1990 is where the story of this mural begins.

They included highly influenced Catholic images, expressing the “L.A. cholo culture aesthetic,” said Montalvo.

The wall became the canvas for local gang members, transforming into a homage for community members who died in gang crossfire by writing their names across the mural.

“Three or four names that we added of people who got killed while we were there. One of those names is of a ten year old girl who was killed due to gang violence in the community,” Montalvo said.

However, the L.A. gang culture aesthetic has faded. The sense of community that the mural carried is no longer felt. Que onda, why has the graffiti mural to begin to disappear?

Mothers and grandmothers of the community decided to have an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe along the right hand wall of the strip mall.

Today the original Virgen de Guadalupe no longer resides on the wall. It has been redone, but not by Earth Crew and not with their permission. For them, this is a violation of integrity and disrespect.

“We’re still here. We’re alive!” Montalvo said.

The dedication that reads “Dedicado a todos aquellos que no tuvieron la oportunidad de disfrutar la vida en paz y a la esperanza que témenos de evitar más muertes” is halfway gone.

The Burlington Homeboys and Homegirls mural is in need of restoration, or else the story and community history it carries will be lost as the paint fades away. The mural carries with it the beginning of not only Earth Crew, but also of the role and effect it had on the local gang youth who participated in its making.

“It played a cathartic role in those guys who were painting it. It reflected the violence that was all around them, and that they had probably caused themselves,” Montalvo explained.

While speaking to Montalvo, he expressed the influence of Helen Samuels, Earth Crew’s mentor and guide once on the crew. Seeing their passion to create art through graffiti, Samuels always sought to help Earth Crew carry out its purpose such as finding locations for the murals or filing paperwork.

“Helen was always making sure that we knew the type of role we were playing in the neighborhood. That we were there as medicine people,” Montalvo said.

Earth Crew struggles to survive, but as Montalvo kept emphasizing, it is still very present.

Video: Grupo Folklórico de UCLA practices for Dia de Los Muertos

If you walk by the McClure Stage on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-8 pm, you will see a group of students dancing their hearts away. This group of students is known as Grupo Folklórico de UCLA, a student club recognized for its celebrations honoring the Mexican culture through a Mexican traditional dance widely known as Ballet Folklorico.

Grupo Folklórico has been putting on performances both on campus and off since 1966. As their mission statement says, “Our goal is to create positive Chicana/o role models, promote cultural awareness throughout our surrounding communities, and encourage the youth of Los Angeles to celebrate their cultural roots and to continue on to institutions of higher learning.” With Grupo Folklórico, students are able to take a break from their studies, shake their bodies to some fun music, and meet some new people, while learning about the culture of Mexico.

Ballet folklorico incorporates its different styles of dance from different regions of Mexico, including Veracruz, Nayarit, and Guerrero. Over the course of the year, they learn the different steps and skirt works to prepare for their biggest and most important performance of the year, Fiesta Mexicana in UCLA’s historic Royce Hall. Any student can be a part of Grupo Folklorico, because as the group emphasizes when recruiting new members, “No experience necessary!”

Video: Bici Libre

Bici Libre translates to “Free Bikes,” but in actuality it “frees bikes” that are left to rust on bike racks.

Bici Libre located at 6th and Lucas Ave in Los Angeles is a bike workshop organized through the Los Angeles Bike Coalition.  Bici Libre wrangles abandoned bikes from different institutions like surrounding universities and MTA to repair and redistribute abandoned bicycles to low-income communities where bicycles are a major source of transportation.

Mostly volunteer-run, Bici Libre is funded by a grant from the LA County Health Department through the Center of Disease Control.  Bici Libre also functions as a venue for bike workshops and a space to for people to fix their bikes under the guide of mechanics for a marginal donation.

This year Bici Libre collected 9 bicycles from UCLA.  Rafael Guerrero and Edwin Aguilar, volunteers, on a appreciate having a safe place and an inexpensive alternative for bike repairs, or in case of a bike theft, an inexpensive replacement.  Roger Mora, also a volunteer, uses Bici Libre as an alternative to being on the streets.

Bici Libre is continually looking for volunteers, donations, and abandoned bikes.  It’s a bike shop for the amateur and the advanced, and for the socially conscious and anyone who wants to help the community.



Finding Brown Pride in Prisoner Letters

I am inspired by the solidarity, the passion and the Brown pride I found in the prisoner letters written to La Gente.

The prisoners go out of their way to educate themselves and to ask questions. I am inspired that people outside of the higher education path are conscious of the anglo-oriented education system that disorient and rob us of our history.

I respect the prisoners for seeking consciousness without many resources offered to them.

La Gente Newsmagazine has been distributing its quarterly newsmagazine to incarcerated individuals since our first issue in 1971. The influx of letters and support from prisoners was a catalyst for the creation of a section for their contributions called Sigan Luchando, which first appeared in the April/May 1993 issue.

Each letter has its own personality. Some are in cursive, some in calligraphy, and some as if typed on a computer.

They incorporate Spanish and Spanglish.  They are formal, and polite. It is as if I was in their cell patiently listening to them.

Their eagerness to be informed and their contribution of poems and artwork added to my excitement of being a part of this newsmagazine.

I know my voice, like the voice of the prisoners’, will be heard.