Today the Supreme Court heard arguments on the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects thousands of young immigrants from fear of deportation. But the program that allows so many to work and study in this country – and achieve a better life – is now on the chopping block.
I am a Dreamer. I have to stand up for the opportunity that changed my life.
As a young girl I was brought to the U.S. and settled in a small town in Ohio. Even though I was too young to realize why we moved, I quickly understood the road ahead wasn’t going to be easy.
My parents were often away working, going from one shift to another – which meant I learned to be self-sufficient and mentally tough early on – fueled by the understanding that I was the extension of my mother’s dreams, sweat and tears. Literally. I’ve witnessed her silent weeps of exhaustion after coming home from a third shift. But I never once saw her verbally complain. This was an opportunity for her children to have a better life her American Dream.
I taught myself to learn English and hide my Spanish accent and blend in. I didn’t speak of my status and kept trekking on in a world where I knew the current one was against me. I constantly wrestled with the idea that I wasn’t enough.
I got good grades, juggled extracurriculars with working multiple odd jobs and navigated my way through college ... with zero government aid. I wasn’t eligible for it, but I made due.
I took semesters off when I couldn’t afford it. I worked in bars. I built a business of selling cosmetics and skin care products. I worked in numerous restaurant roles, sometimes even doing the hard labor that generally was left to young men because that was the only available work. I did it all with a smile on my face while I silently battled the mental health repercussions of living in the shadows.
What got me through it all was processing my family’s sacrifices and my own hunger for education. I was hungry to have one glimmer of a chance, an opportunity, to be able to work legally and one day give back to the country. As I came close to graduating college, I still needed to find professional work experience. Because of my undocumented status and need to pay for school I only had odd jobs.
My resume included a New York address so the hiring managers wouldn’t discard me for living in the middle of the country. I didn’t want them to make assumptions or excuses on whether I’d be willing to move across the country for an unpaid internship that started in two weeks. At that point I already knew a thing or two about people making assumptions about my future.
Then I got one call back for an interview for an unpaid internship at a small marketing agency – I jumped at the opportunity. Despite being in the middle of Ohio, I had agreed to meet for an in-person interview the next day in New York City. Eighteen hours and nine bus stops later I cleaned myself up, changed in a Port Authority bathroom and ran down to Times Square for the interview.
A few weeks later I was back in New York City to start two part-time unpaid internships. I couldn’t have been more excited and grateful. Having little money to eat and live in a city like Manhattan, I walked up and down storefronts, delivering my resume to take on odd jobs. I was a babysitter, I walked dogs on my lunch breaks, I worked in bars and in club promotion. I found any way – however small - to make it work. And after a lot of scrappiness and tough work, it did.
That summer the DACA program changed my life forever. I moved to New York City – this time for good. I started my dream job in the coveted role of an NBC Page at the NBCUniversal Page Program, working with individuals and on shows I have admired from afar for years. I then took that opportunity to the next level and got hired as a booking producer with MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Only in America would my hard work, tenacity and grit transform into a tool of upward mobility.
I have been fortunate enough to have co-authored a book for young women with Mika Brzezinski,"Earn It!," traveling the country to share my story, in the hope of inspiring other young people to reach beyond their own struggles. "Earn It!" is a guidebook for young women and men – immigrant or not – to find their own story of resilience, to overcome, to write their own narrative and advocate for themselves in the workplace.
I’m a Dreamer and now giving back to hundreds of young people across the country.
This is where I grew up. This is where I belong. This is where I intend to stay.