John is dreaming of a better life. Like many undocumented immigrants in the United States, John, whose name is being withheld by the Sundial, has risked his life crossing treacherous terrains and dodging border patrol officers all in search of the opportunities and privileges that many U.S. citizens have been born with and perhaps have even taken for granted.
With the recent proposals of immigration reform, John’s dreams have been put on hold as many Americans wait the outcome, some overtly expressing their opposition to the reform through massive protests across the country.
John, 29, of Oxnard, might soon be faced with more obstacles in his attempt to make his dreams a reality, but his drive only grows stronger.
“It’s very difficult,” John said. “I work over 40 hours a week and study everyday, and my English is still not very good. I still try my hardest to work towards my goals.”
For the past four years, John has been struggling his way through the U.S. educational system, striving to earn a degree in business and hoping to avoid any legal problems that a potential reform in immigration policy may provoke.
In the next two years, he hopes to transfer to CSUN and eventually open his own supermarket.
Throughout the week, John earns a living through odd jobs, mostly landscape maintenance and construction work. His muscles and bones often ache from laboring 12 hours a day in the blistering heat. He works hard, not only to make a living, but also to pay for his education.
With 40 units remaining before he can transfer to a university, John is worried that the controversial immigration bill could stifle his opportunities and shatter his dreams.
Like many other Mexican immigrants, John embarked on a difficult journey to enter the country.
In 1994, John and his sister left the state of Guerrero, a region in southern Mexico stricken with violence and poverty. He traveled for three days to the border town of Tijuana where he paid a coyote $400 to assist them across the border, along with a dozen other immigrants.
“It was very scary,” John recalled. “We had to travel in the dark so we wouldn’t get caught by the border patrol. It took us 24 hours because we had to stop and hide so many times. We had no food and very little water.”
At the young age of 17, John left his friends, family and customs in order to do what he could not do in his own country-work and receive a higher education.
Living in Southern California for nearly 12 years, adapting to his new life, John said he experienced a fair share of discrimination at work and at school.
With the recent controversy surrounding the immigration reform proposals, John said his racist encounters have been more frequent.One particular experience hauntingly stands out in his mind.
While looking for work at a construction company in Thousand Oaks, John was a victim of racial discrimination. He said a manager laughed at him when he offered his services and then angrily accused him of taking away jobs from U.S. citizens. John was then forced to leave, as the manager threatened to call the police and have him deported.
Despite the hardships that he has endured, John continues to place his education at the top of his priority list. He said through school he would be able to live a better life and financially assist his family in Mexico.
With the debate surrounding the recent legislative proposals, there has been a noticeable decrease in enrollment of immigrant students.
Geni Cobb, counselor for Student Outreach and Recruitment Services at CSUN, said more undocumented immigrants are not extending their education beyond the high school level.
“Students are afraid to apply,” Cobb said. “As a recruitment counselor, I encounter a lot of outstanding students at high schools who are undocumented and have impressive GPAs. It’s sad to see them waste their potential.”
Some advocates of the immigration bill claim that undocumented immigrants exhaust social services and crowd schools, making it harder for some citizens to receive adequate healthcare and a proper education.
David Diaz, associate professor of Chicana/o Studies at CSUN, thinks differently.
“The way I see it, is it depends on the student’s performance,” Diaz said. “If a student proves to achieve a good academic performance, then it shouldn’t matter if he or she is undocumented. Everybody should have the right to an education if they work for it.”
Frank Ramirez, Chicana/o Studies graduate student at CSUN and former Brown Berets activist, said it is important to understand where a lot of these immigrants are coming from in order to understand immigration patterns in the United States.
“For a lot of immigrants, their decision to cross the border was based on a life or death situation,” Ramirez said. “Some were literally starving in their own country and not able to make livable wages. It would be inhumane to deny them a chance for a better life.”
For John, his situation was not any different. Despite his illegal status as an undocumented Mexican immigrant, he has better opportunities here than in his own country. Although he lives off of minimum wages, he is able to work enough to get by and to pay for his education without financial aid.
This Fourth of July as Americans flock to their nearest park to celebrate the country’s independence and their individual freedom, John will be hoping that one day he will gain the same rights and opportunities that millions are granted at birth.
“Freedom is a far-fetched idea for me,” he said. “I feel that a lot of people don’t understand why we try so hard to come here. I just hope things will start to change.”