Undocumented and out of the shadows

Undocumented students deserve the chance to reach their potential

Kira Walker/Staff

I feel a gripping anxiety  revealing that I am undocumented, even to those who are closest to me. It was a huge dilemma when my adviser Meng So asked me to participate in the making of the Youtube video “Terrence’s Chalkboard Talk,” which is a two-minute clip explaining the economic benefits of the DREAM Act.

Part of a DREAM Act promotion campaign coordinated by Laurene Powell Jobs and director Davis Guggenheim, the video was released nationwide in February. Having lived in the shadows to hide my identity as an undocumented student, I found it was a very nerve-racking experience to stand in front of a camera, knowing it would be released for the whole country to see. That trip to LA for the filming was one stressful experience, and just when I thought it was all over, I began getting interview requests from the news media, including ABC, The Huffington Post and BBC.

However, as I gained composure through more interviews, I began to recognize the bigger implication of what I was doing: that this was an opportunity to defend the rights of my fellow DREAMers. Although coming out as an undocumented student made me feel vulnerable, I am glad that I made the choice to share my story.

When I received my acceptance letter from UC Berkeley a couple of years ago, the first thought that came to my mind was, “How will I afford it?” Although I came from a single-parent and low-income family, my lack of a social security number constantly prevented me from applying to need-based scholarships. I decided to take a year off and worked as a cashier at a local laundromat and a private tutor. When I came back to Cal, I only had enough money for one semester.

It was the California DREAM Act, which passed in 2011, that allowed me to continue my education. It not only qualified me for state-administered financial-aid programs but also enabled me to develop my skills that I can use as a mathematician in my future career. Not having to constantly worry about financial obstacles — paying for next semester’s tuition, affording next month’s rent and figuring out where and how many times to eat per day — gave me the time and opportunity to concentrate on my academics, participate in a research internship and coordinate a math club.

I am proud to acknowledge that UC Berkeley has the best support system for undocumented students. Chancellor Birgeneau has been actively supporting the DREAM Act since its introduction, Meng So coordinates Berkeley’s undocumented student program and Berkeley’s faculty and staff and students constantly inspire me to move forward. I have made it this far because of their support and encouragement.

Last week, Harvard offered me admission to its biostatistics program. There, I plan to continue my research in cancer and wish to explore other research topics, including HIV and statistical genetics. For my future career, I wish to work where I can play an active role in shaping healthier communities.

Right now in America, there are 2.1 million undocumented children with similar potential, eager to develop their talents and contribute to our society. They are America’s future engineers, doctors and teachers. We must give them a chance to reach their full potential.

Terrence Park is a senior at UC Berkeley.

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