identities

How One Latina’s App Is Helping Undocumented Students Find Ways To Pay For College

For high school seniors, applying to college can be a stressful process with applications and countless fees. But what can be even more stressful is being told you can’t go to college because of money. This is the harsh reality for thousands of undocumented immigrants every year that find out they don’t qualify for FAFSA or any government scholarships due to their legal status in the United States. Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca, knows first hand how this felt back in 2008 when she found out she didn’t qualify for FAFSA because she was undocumented.

“When I was in high school I found out that because I was undocumented I was not going to be able to qualify for FAFSA like all my other friends,” Salamanca, then 18, told Forbes. “I asked my counselor for guidance on other options to finance my college education and she said that people like me didn’t go to college.”

Espinoza Salamanca knew she had to find a solution to to an issue that affects millions in the U.S.

Credit: Jesse Urrutia

Salamanca, who came to the U.S. in 1994 from Mexico at the age of 4, had little to no resources to help pay for college.. At that time in California, in 2008, she qualified for some money under AB540, which allows certain undocumented students in-state tuition. However, it didn’t work to help pay for college since Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy that provides qualified undocumented immigrants with a renewable work permit, didn’t exist until 2012.

Due to these circumstances, Salamanca didn’t go to college directly after high school because she didn’t think she could afford it. Instead, she worked jobs like cleaning houses and taking care of children.

Salamanca wasn’t the only one facing this dilemma, according to Educators for Fair Consideration, a nonprofit that advocates for undocumented immigrants, about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school each year but only 10,000 graduate from college. 

With limited options, Salamanca took things into her own hands. She would submit an idea proposal to Voto Latino’s Innovator Challenge, which gives awards to five people with the best ideas in STEM aimed at Latinos in the U.S. Her proposal was DREAMers Roadmap, a nonprofit app that helps undocumented students around the country find scholarships to go to college.

Salamanca would win the competition and earn $100,000 to help jump start the app. She began working full time for DREAMer’s Roadmap after getting her associate’s degree from Cañada College in Redwood City in 2015.

Since the app launched in 2016, it
has helped over 20,000 undocumented students find scholarships.

Credit: @ModernLatinas/Twitter

The app finds scholarships from different organizations and shares scholarship information via text, email or social media. It also allows users to search for scholarships without having to create an account in case some undocumented students don’t want to give personal information.

DREAMer’s Roadmap has opened us countless opportunities for undocumented students across the country. Salamanca told Forbes that she is constantly hearing back from students about how the app has changed the trajectory of their lives. The app has also gained multiple national sponsors including the UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program.

“As I travel the country sharing my story and my work I’ve been blessed to have met many of the users of our app and hearing their stories reminds me that we are doing a good job and fulfilling our mission of bringing hope and financial opportunities to immigrant communities.”

This is just the first step for Salamanca, who wants to continue helping undocumented students reach higher education.

Credit:@DreamersRoadmap/Twitter

Now a 28-year-old resident of East Palo Alto, Salamanca has received national praise and recognition for her work. In 2018, she was nominated for a Visionary of the Year award for her work towards undocumented communities. Salamanca now has a green card and has plans to continue her education at a four-year-college.

But for all the successes that have come Salamanca’s way she never forgets why she started this all. She reminds others the value of higher education and why having it harder for some to access it, is a loss of so much potential.

We are a country of immigrants and many of our giant companies have been founded by immigrants so why not educate our immigrants and accept them,” Salamanca told Forbes. “We as a country are losing so much talent and potential by making it so hard to educate these students. You would think we want to be a society of the most educated people but we make it nearly impossible for these kids to have an opportunity to be an essential part of this country. This is our home too.”

READ: ICE Releases Flight Attendant and DACA Recipient That Was Held for 6 Weeks

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Once Again, A Study Shows Latinos Continue To Lack Representation In Hollywood

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Once Again, A Study Shows Latinos Continue To Lack Representation In Hollywood

Alfonso Cuarón, 2014 Oscar winner of Best Achievement in Directing for Gravity. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Representation is a loaded word when it comes to conversations about diversity in casting, especially when it comes Latinos. The latest study from UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report 2018″, shows the huge disparity Latinos experience when it comes to roles behind and in front of the camera. What makes matters even more frustrating is the reports evidence shows audiences tend to prefer movies and TV shows that feature diverse casts. So what gives and what has to change? Here’s a look at the evidence on why Latinos are being left out of the conversation when it comes to representation.

This year, the Oscars showcased the best of what a prospering film industry that includes Latinos could be, or did it?

UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report 2019” 

The feel-good story of this past awards season was Alfonso Cuaróns’ Oscar-winning film “Roma.” The movie centered on a housekeeper of a middle-class family in Mexico City. Despite high praise, the film received and Cuarón becoming the fifth Mexican in the last six years to win Best Director, the reality for U.S.-born Latinos in Hollywood hasn’t changed.

Latinos account for the largest percent of moviegoers among minorities at 24 percent. Yet when it comes to getting roles, that’s a whole different story. In 2017, Latinos accounted for only 5.2 percent of all roles in the top grossing films. This was hardly an improvement from the previous year which was at 2.7 percent.

When it comes to getting roles on TV shows, it’s the same trend. Latinos accounted for no more than 7 percent of all TV roles when it came to the top shows on broadcast, cable and digital networks.

For those in the industry already, making changes is harder than it looks.

Credit: @StripeyWorm/Twitter

Even when Latino-centered shows like “One Day At A Time” receive critical acclaim, that is rarely enough. This past month news broke that the show has been canceled by Netflix. Despite high praise from critics and fans, the series still has to prove itself.

“We are one of the fastest growing minority groups in country and we are still fighting for our films and scripts to be shown to the world,” independent filmmaker Kenneth Castillo said. “That’s not right.”

Castillo says what’s going on with “One Day At A Time” is an unfortunate thing that proves how even when Latinos create great content, at times it’s still not good enough. “I’ve seen this happen time and time again in Hollywood and we need to have some meaningful dialogue about where as Latinos we stand.”

If Latinos are going to see real progress when it comes to representation, they can’t wait for Hollywood to do it first.

Credit: Reuters/Twitter

There’s no denying that we are entering a new golden age in Mexican cinema with the continued success of Latino directors like Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Del Toro. But it’s a different story when it comes to U.S.-born Latino directors and actors.

There have been just a handful of U.S.-born directors and actors to break into mainstream success. Statistics also show studios take less chances on Latino-focused films and shows.

Representation is important when it comes to how one sees themselves and how the world perceives them as. As the largest growing minority group in the U.S., Latinos should be near the top of most film studios and getting major roles. But that’s anything but the truth. So this all begs the question, where and how do we see change?

If Latinos are going to see make any progress when it comes to more representation, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Castillo says that Latinos can’t wait for Hollywood to open the gate for more opportunities.

“We have to create our own stories and narratives in this country,” Castillo said. “Grab a camera, write that script and share your own story that Hollywood will never get to tell.”

READ: Latinos Are Still Waiting For Their Own Movie Moment As Hollywood Tries Casting More Diverse Films