More than a label: Learning he was undocumented changed everything, but now he carries his status with pride

Labeled as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, it’s no wonder Mexican immigrants have struggled to feel welcome in modern-day America. The term “undocumented” has even been used to incite fear in the public.

But when the President of the U.S. even wants to put up a wall to keep undocumented immigrants out, Tomas Evangelista wears his undocumented status without fear or shame.

“I am an undocumented immigrant protected by DACA, and I am who the president and other politicians are talking about, when they’re using my situation to create fear.”

 

Evangelista did not know he was undocumented until the age of 15. Growing up in California, attending American school and speaking perfect English, he had no idea that his immigration status was “illegal.”

He feared his newfound identity would make his college dreams unattainable. There was no financial aid for undocumented students at the time, and because of his immigration status, his family discouraged him from pursuing a higher education.

“Getting into school was very difficult. My family had never seen anybody who had done it from our town. They saw people try and fail, and spend a lot of money”. Regardless, he decided to pursue a higher education on his own. Fortunately, with encouragement from his coaches, he was awarded a running scholarship to American River Community College. Then, with financial support from the community, he was able to transfer to Stanislaus State.

Many undocumented students face this same daunting reality of how to pursue an education.

In a similar story reported by the Washington Post, Edwin Ordoñez excelled in all of his classes and could potentially attend any college of his choice. Only one obstacle stood in his way: his immigration status. He was an Ivy League hopeful, but could not afford tuition and was not eligible for federal aid.  With lots of determination and help from his high school staff, he was to obtain financial aid from Princeton.

Tomas and Edwin’s experience mirrors what many undocumented students face. Unfortunately, only about 20% of undocumented students graduate high school.  It may be the lack of familial support or lack of motivation knowing they may not reach university. According to the UCLA Labor Center, only 10% of undocumented students make it to college.

Now, many resources are offered for students like Tomas. College Board, the California State School, and the UC system websites offer resources for incoming undocumented students. These sites provide support for prospective students, information for how to receive financial aid, and ways that students can find a community on prospective campuses.

Even here at Cal Poly, a predominantly white campus,  there is a strong community for immigrant students. The Cross Cultural Center, is a space for students with marginalized identities to find a safe community on campus. Additionally, Multicultural Center is dedicated to diversity and inclusivity. They strive to be a community for underrepresented students. Resources specifically pertaining to undocumented students are at The Cal Poly Dream Center.  They are dedicated to the success of undocumented students and commit to giving them a sense of belonging here on this campus.

Many believe that “undocumented” is a label of shame. However, Tomas exemplifies a story of success.  He is an immigrant, who’s status pushed him to succeed and become resource for other immigrants who need support. Though our current political climate has proved difficult for those seeking refuge here, Tomas’ believes in the future of America.

“My bet is on the American people. I really hope that everyone listens and they help me amplify my voice to help others too”.

 

 

 

 

 

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