Working Hard for His Daughter’s Dreams

Just outside where he works in the mid-city area, Gerardo Becerra anxiously waits to buy his coffee at a parked food truck. His work-day begins at 4 a.m. and usually ends twelve to thirteen hours later. Becerra is a family man who enjoys spending time with his four children; however, lately he has spent more time at work than at home. His oldest daughter, 19-year-old Denise, is an AB 540 student who was admitted to California State University, Long Beach last fall, causing a strain on the family’s income. “My co-workers, and my immediate boss know that I need to come up with around $4,000 every semester to put Denise through school, so they help out by trading their days off with me, or letting me work overtime,” said Becerra.

As an AB 540 student, Denise does not receive any financial aid. She is responsible for covering tuition and book costs for her education. Commuting every day and living in the two-bedroom home with her parents helps the family save some money.

Becerra was born and raised in Jalisco, Mexico and migrated to the United States in 1994 with his wife and daughter. He fled poverty with the hopes of finding a better future in el norte [the north]. He was persuaded by a cousin to come and try his luck in the US, only to find “that you do earn more money here, but you also pay more bills.”

Not having finished high school himself, he admits that sometimes it’s hard to help his daughter. How can a parent guide his child through something that is unknown to him? “The best way to help is offering an incredible amount of support and love,” said Becerra.

Upon arriving in the US, Becerra was faced with the reality of living in a capitalist nation. One must work very hard, in the presence of a language barrier no less, in order to survive. Finding a job was difficult.

He and his wife thought about returning home to Mexico to try to make a living there; however, a few months after arriving to the US, his wife Norma became pregnant, and they decided to wait until after the birth of the child. After 17 years, they now formed a life here, a home they can’t simply renounce. “I came here for myself, to find a better life, and I stayed here for my children. I want to see them succeed, to see that they live out this better life,” said Becerra.

As the head of household, he feels obliged to provide for his daughter’s education; however, he admits it is financially overwhelming. “It feels like I am paying two houses. I have to take as much overtime as my boss is willing to offer me to make it through the month. Family and friends have been very supportive.”

His wife Norma does not work. Instead, she takes care of the younger children at home who are all US-born citizens. They host family events to raise money for Denise. “My wife makes tamales. Friends and family help out by selling them. They try to have Tamaleadas [tamale sales] once every month,” said Becerra. At work, he also raffles tequila bottles, perfumes, movies, and anything that will help buy Denise that one very expensive textbook or her bus pass.

Now that his daughter has the opportunity of attending one of the top schools in the state, does he feel like his dream of a better life has been fulfilled? He smiles and responds, “Pues en parte si [well, in part yes].”

“There are things out of my control,” reiterated Becerra, like his daughter’s legal status or his own permanent status here in the US. “Making ends meet has become so difficult and now there is such a strong anti-immigrant sentiment that you just don’t know anymore. It feels like we can get kicked out any day.”

As an AB 540 parent, Becerra faces many challenges. He wishes to give his daughter the necessary tools to succeed in life; however, the unreliability of his legal status prevent him from fully doing so. He wishes he could have a better job, so he can make more money, educate himself, and help his daughter in choosing the right path. “No puedo hacer mas por mi hija, [I can’t do more for my daughter],” he said.

The biggest challenge is knowing that his daughter will have to work twice as much as any student because of a decision he took years ago: migrating to a different country with different customs that was not his home then, but has become his home now.

“There are days,” described Gerardo, “when Denise gets sad because she can’t do things that her friends can do like travel, study abroad, work, drive, or simply volunteer at schools.” For the Becerras, “there is always that fear in the back of our minds about what will happen once she gets through with school. If she will be recognized as a professional, if she will be able to work, to be what she is studying for, a teacher.”

As much as he tries not to let his fears show in front of his daughter, these are things that he worries about. “Seguir Adelante,” said Becerra, a phrase he is known for. He believes in moving forward to work hard for his children’s dreams, which are now his own.

“She is my first daughter; I came to this country for her. I wanted a better life for her and I will give her as much as I can,” affirmed Becerra.

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.”

An Ignored Truth…

Another Wave of Immigrants:

The Hidden Truth about the Immigrant Other

Some people might call me Xicano (Chicano), or some might call me Mexican-American, or Latino or perhaps just simply American. But in the eyes of some right wing fundamentalists, I might be called an anchor baby. They say that because of my parents illegal status at the time of my birth that I shouldn’t be considered a United States citizen. Isn’t it fair to assume, though, that many of these same people, who use the derogatory term “anchor baby,” are also descended from immigrants?

I mean, if I’m an anchor baby because I was born from undocumented immigrants, then aren’t we all technically anchor babies ? I mean, aren’t we all a generation or generations descended from undocumented immigrants?

Unless, that is, you come from a Native American heritage, which last I checked the percentage in this country, was fairly low. In my estimation, the majority of us come from immigrant parents or grandparents or great grandparents or what not, who came with the same dreams and aspirations.

With recent policies and challenges to the 14th Amendment, however, it seems as though there is a looming wave of ignorance among the uninformed masses. They don’t see that we are all sons and daughters of immigrants and that we should be helping each other not hating each other.

Needless to say, let me remind them that the original 13 colonies were a group of dissidents from another country that  came here to improve their lives, while securing something for their future generations.

Also, because of them African slaves, as well as other groups, became a sort of “involuntary immigrant,” which became the primary reason for the creation of the 14th Amendment. It  allowed foreign-born slaves, or laborers, to produce US-born citizens into bondage.

After slavery was abolished and somewhat diminished, our country resorted to Chinese and European immigrants to deal with the shortage of free labor. The First Transcontinental Railroad was built on the backs of many different cultures.

Once they – Chinese Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Polish Americans etc. – began to assimilate and gain rights, these immigrants were persecuted very much like the immigrants of today. Interestingly enough,  the  Chinese Americans were subjected to a discriminatory policy i.e. the Chinese Exclusion Act that bares a close resemblance to recent immigration laws against Latino immigrants. It really is strange how the past really is never really past.

Current immigrants are met with the same ignorance that was shown to the Chinese, Irish, Italian and Black immigrants. Moreover, all of this is ignored while raking in the rewards from the huge services that documented and undocumented workers provide. The truth is that the undocumented worker of today is no different than any  another worker from the past; the slave, the servant, the laborer and the “other,” will it never end?

The views upon undocumented Mexican or Central American immigrants today may seem like a burdensome problem  to some, but the truth is many of the same people remain ignorant of the reality of immigration: they provide the cheap labor that has been the staple in any thriving US economy.

Let’s face it, these workers are doing the jobs no one else will do. The back bone of America today is Latino, and is being disregarded.

The following Telemundo report, about the agricultural immigrant labor in the Salinas valley, highlights the experiences of immigrants today and how they are filling the role of cheap labor.

The report analyzes the notion of stolen jobs by undocumented workers. The video is in Spanish, so put your Sombreros on 😀

I’m just saying, how many of us are willing to pick fruits and vegetables for a living? and shouldn’t we be more aware of the treatment of immigrant workers, so that perhaps they aren’t taken advantage of?

Legislation proposes separate birth certificates for children of citizens and non-citizens

A new piece of legislation is set to be written this year regarding the citizenship of babies being born to illegal immigrants within the US border. While the 14th amendment grants this right to persons being born in the US, opponents of this statue are poised to challenge and have the amendment changed as soon as possible. In Arizona, lawmakers are proposing to grant two different birth certificates: one for babies born to citizens and one for babies born to illegal immigrants. Although University of Arizona law professor Gabriel Chin says such practices are un-American, incoming secretary of state of Kansas Kris Kobach believes they can be held up in court, reports the New York Times.

The Path to Citizenship: If the DREAM Act passes, undocumented hopefuls must decide between enrollment or enlistment

Can you imagine paying $20,000 or more for your tuition without any loans or financial aid? Can you imagine having to choose between eating or buying your textbooks for the quarter? Can you imagine having to take public transportation for up to four hours just to get to and from UCLA? Can you imagine being undocumented?

This is a reality that many undocumented students face every day. Brought to the US at a young age, many have excelled academically, with over 65,000 of them graduating from high schools every year.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would open the door to young people whose parents brought them to this country as children without proper documentation. If they complete two years at a four-year institution, obtain a degree from a two-year community college, or serve at least two years in the military and show good moral character, the bill would provide them a pathway to earn US citizenship.

Illustration by Maria Esmeralda Renteria

Although the DREAM Act would benefit some undocumented students, not everyone fully supports it. Those who support the DREAM Act, including anti-war and immigrant rights activists, became opponents of the bill because of the military component. They believe that enlisting in the military to obtain citizenship would contribute to the recruitment of undocumented students who will be targeted and drafted at high numbers.

The debate became more controversial when the DREAM Act was attached to a defense authorization bill by longtime supporter of the DREAM Act, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. The bill is enacted each year to specify the budget and expenditures of the US Department of Defense. On Sept. 21, 2010 the bill fell four votes short of the 60 needed to pass.

“There is a huge conspiracy theory that the DREAM Act will recruit more people in the military, but if that was the case the DREAM Act would have easily been passed through the defense bill. It would have been favored by all Republicans, but the opposite happened. The DREAM Act actually stalled the defense bill. The reality and the theory don’t make sense,” said Nancy Meza, UCLA alumna and the Media and Communications Chair for DREAM Team Los Angeles, a coalition of organizations in the Los Angeles area supporting the DREAM Act.

The military component is seen as a draft that will increase military recruitment targeting undocumented students that are typically of low socioeconomic status. “The DREAM Act is a way to bring more of these undocumented [students] into the ranks, they understand that college is an expensive alternative for a lot of these folks so they’re offering the military,” said Marco Amador, a Los Angeles community organizer and collaborator of the film “Yo Soy El Army: America’s New Military Caste,” which explores the effects of the militarization of immigrant communities.

“We need to acknowledge that there has been military recruitment in our communities even before the DREAM Act was drafted,” said Meza. It’s necessary also to take into account that although military recruitment has been occurring in our communities and undocumented students are not eligible for any federal financial aid, they are still graduating at the top of their high school class and going on to higher education. For undocumented youth, the benefits of the DREAM Act would be enormous.

The DREAM Act is offering students a choice between pursuing higher education and enlisting in the military. In an interview on, Gabriela Pacheco, a 25-year-old student from Ecuador who grew up undocumented in Florida said, “I believe that for a lot of the students graduating from high school their desire is to go to college, and it’s what’s being proven right now.” Earlier this year, she and three other students walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, DC, in what was called the “Trail of Dreams” to bring awareness to the DREAM Act.

Leisy Abrego, Assistant Professor at UCLA’s César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and leading scholar on undocumented students, made her decision to support the bill on loyalty to students she knows have worked hard to pass the DREAM Act.

“[I] don’t support the military component, but based on the political reality that we’re in, I do support [the DREAM Act],” said Abrego.

The DREAM Act also receives support from students and those in the military. “I definitely support the DREAM Act as it is with the military component,” said Army Reserve member and third-year Chicana and Chicano studies student Margarita Peralta. Peralta said she didn’t consider herself being heavily recruited. “It’s a decision you come to yourself,” she said.

There are undocumented students that want to join the military as a personal choice. For example, David Cho, a fourth-year international finance student at UCLA, said publically at the Campus Progress National Conference that he is undocumented and wants to serve in the U.S. Air Force.

The DREAM Act is at a stage where it has the highest likelihood of passing in the last 10 years. Not supporting the DREAM Act would only minimize the efforts undocumented have made and the risks they have taken. Undocumented students have been the ones that put their lives on the line. It is the undocumented students that should have that personal choice whether they decide to go on to higher education or if they want to enlist in the military.

“As DREAMers we are ready and willing to take the responsibility about educating our community. We see a hurdle; we don’t see a road block,” said Meza.

This is not an easy choice but when have the choices for undocumented students ever been easy?