Posted by: Christopher Punongbayan
Below is the story of 21-year old, Stephanie, who is an advocate for the federal and California DREAM Act. She is a member of the immigrant youth group, ASPIRE – Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights Through Education.
My name is Stephanie and I am 21 years old. I was born in Guan Dong, China. Once people get to know me more and know about my personal history, they reply; “Oh! Stephanie, you are so mature!” Every time I hear that, it reminds me of what I have gone through independently for six years. The things I have gone through were full of tears, sadness, loneliness, happiness, obstacles, homesickness, hopes, and dreams.
My personal story started when my parents and my two older brothers immigrated to Lima, Peru in South America in 1995 when I was 9. Back in China, girls are not as valued as boys. They left me at home in China for 3 years with my aunt. Once in a while, my parents gave me long distance phone calls from Peru to see how I was doing in school. I remember I never even knew when my birthday was because my parents never hosted a party for me, although they hosted parties for my two brothers every year. After I turned 11, I left my home in China, to Lima, Peru in 1998.
After 5 years of living in Lima, Peru, my parents decided to send me to the United States to live with my older brother. I refused my parents decision at first. I explained that my older brother and I never got along, but they said that I had no choice because I was still too young to make any decisions. My destiny changed when that decision was made. My father and I got a tourist visa in 2003 that was only valid for 6 months. We first stopped in Los Angeles, California.
After few weeks in Los Angeles, my father flew back to Peru and I stayed in the United States with 500 dollars to last through the year. I went to Belmont High School for more than half a year and I had great time with new friends. Not too long after, I moved to San Francisco and had to say goodbye to my friends in Los Angeles. By that time, my tourist visa had been expired for months but no one in my family had explained to me that I would become undocumented.
In 2004, I rode a Greyhound bus by myself from Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco to live with my older brother. Once I arrived, my older brother told me that I was undocumented and I should not tell anyone. He never explained what an undocumented person should or shouldn’t do, or how to become a legal citizen one day. All he told me was the only way to get citizenship was to find someone who is a U.S citizens and get a fake marriage. My mother gave me a lot of pressure, especially. She would always put pressure on me when I was with my boyfriend. At the end, my boyfriend and I broke up because he said that I was only searching for citizenship. It hurt me so much because it wasn’t true at all.
I told my parents that my older brother and I couldn’t get along. We always quarreled and fought. In 2005, I moved out and started to live by myself. I found a full time job that paid me in cash to assist my rent and my daily expenses. I couldn’t save any money, and what I earned could barely pay off all my expenses. I felt very lonely. I was afraid to make friends because of my immigration status. I was afraid that they would treat me differently or someone could report me to immigration and deport me. I was also stressed out with work and school.
Luckily, I could still go to school and be in a place where I could make friends and gain knowledge. I went to Newcomer High School for a year and then transferred to Galileo High School for 3 years and graduated in 2007. During my high school years, I earned an average 3.8 GPA. It was hard keeping my GPA up while working full time. High School counselors and teachers helped me to become less stressed after I told them about my situation. They told me that I wasn’t alone and referred me to some counseling services. After the counseling, I was able to relax and tried to trust people. I had great time when I was in High School.
I learned a lot about what an undocumented resident can and cannot do. During my senior year in High School, I learned about AB540. I learned that undocumented students who graduate from high school and meet certain requirements can go to college and pay resident tuition under AB 540. I was so happy that I could transfer to City College of San Francisco after I graduated from Galileo and continue working toward my goals in life.
Although I couldn’t qualify for financial aid, I received a scholarship that helped me with my tuition. My financial situation didn’t change for the better after I graduated from High School. I still needed to work a part time job as a waitress in a small restaurant. My part time job earnings are barely enough to cover my rent and my other daily expenses, and there is never any left for saving. I always worry about how I will pay for tuition at a California State University after I finish my General Education from City College. To prevent any financial issues that could affect my schooling, I am doing my best to apply for all the possible scholarships so I could save the money for later on in the future.
Now, I know that I cannot do anything to change my immigration status. I can only hope that one day, the Federal or California Dream Act could pass so that it can give financial support and a path to legalization for all AB540 students and help them obtain a better future. Meanwhile, I am also participating in a group called Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Right through Education (ASPIRE) sponsored by the Asian Law Caucus (ALC). In our group, we are trying our best to reach out to our society and get people to support the Federal and California Dream Acts! Also, we are encouraging more Asian youth of all immigration backgrounds to join us to fight for our rights!