Stories from undocumented young people: Alberto ‘Owen’ Cardosa

Owen, an undocumented student, poses in Berkeley, CA
Priya Iyer/Courtesy

Editor’s Note: This piece first published in the Lowdown.

In the United States, 2 million people were eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in 2016, while thousands of others who arrived here during or before their teenage years were not deemed eligible. I sat down with several young people who came to the United States undocumented to capture the range of stories on why they came to the United States, what their dreams are and what they’ll do if DACA no longer exist. Below, you’ll find one of these stories.

Alberto “Owen” Cardosa

Leaving Mexico

Owen Cardosa was born in Jalisco, Mexico. He jokes that people think of Jalisco as the land of tequila and mariachi.

His grandma, a strong character in his family, felt that her grandson’s talent wasn’t being utilized. She convinced his mom to send him to the United States. Originally, he came with the intent to learn English and return home. “English is a part of that if you want to be anyone in the world,” Cardosa said.

Growing up in the United States

However, Cardosa had applied to an IB program for high school in Stockton, California, where he was staying with his aunt and uncle. Despite his expectations, he’d been accepted. But high school in the United States was not what he’d expected. The language barriers terrified him the most about being in high school. After a year, he achieved fluency in English. But his undocumented status and home life forced him to grow up fast.

He disagreed with his aunt and uncle because they were very conservative. He recalls that they wouldn’t even let him take naps in the middle of the day. Cardosa also remembers how alone he felt. “From beginning to end, college was my project,” he said. He never had a mentor or anyone else he could talk to about his status.

Learning about DACA

When Cardosa’s classmates started applying for college, he started Googling. When he discovered DACA, he quickly learned that he didn’t qualify. Then, he learned about AB 540, a California state law that allows undocumented students in-state tuition.

When he found out that he got into Berkeley, he felt a sense of pride. “Being undocumented it’s easy to write yourself off as insufficient,” Cardosa says. “You have to work harder (than everyone else).” Despite the pressure, Cardosa says he has become a figurehead for his family’s hopes and dreams. He beamed with pride when he saw a picture of his older brother in Mexico wearing a Berkeley sweatshirt.

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He’s clear about one thing: “I want to leave a positive legacy behind.” He’s currently part of a program called DreamSF where he gets paid to intern at La Raza, an organization that focuses on protecting the rights of low-wage and legal workers. The job allows him to make an impact on lives. He’s already worked with asylum seekers and on deportation proceedings. This role has showed him that people are really suffering, and he wonders why the world isn’t doing more about it.

If DACA isn’t renewed

Cardosa never felt a lack of belonging in the United States until the Trump administration came into power. As a child, he grew up with American standards that he learned on TV. He feels he’s achieved the “quintessential American dream.” Now, he said, it’s hard not to feel defeated.

However, this is not the only country that has something to offer. “If they won’t let me contribute to this society, I’m going to take it and contribute elsewhere,” he said. Regardless, he doesn’t believe that going back to his birthplace is an option. His parents were in the police force, and he’s seen cartels kill their family friends who were high-ranking officials in the government. He’s worried about his safety if he returns, and he worries about the safety of his parents because they still live in Mexico.

Priya Iyer is the founder of the Lowdown.