In this personal essay series, we hear from the people who would — and in some cases already have — benefit from DACA and DAPA. This is Cindy’s story.
Many of you have heard the term “DREAMers” — those who arrived to the U.S. as children without lawful status. My name is Cindy, and I’m a DREAMer.
I’ve had the opportunity to take part in community actions to support immigrants and students who, like me, encountered many tribulations due to their legal status. Through my civic engagement, I’ve found a passion for policy, politics and our legislative system. It was here in New Mexico that I began a lonely road to becoming the “political advocate” I wanted to be, to represent and inform our communities and students across the state.
This wasn’t always seen as a good thing. I’ve been judged, criticized, screamed at and offended many times because of others’ dissatisfaction with what I was doing.
I remember once standing at the state capitol, speaking to a woman I had viewed as an ally and mentor who became outraged that I was not doing what she asked. She called me a traitor, claiming I had no connection to my roots and that I didn’t understand the struggle of my communities. This woman is an educated U.S. citizen who holds a doctorate degree and lives a financially comfortable life, and she was accusing me of not knowing the struggle and of forgetting my roots. Rather than respond to attacks, I learned I was better off investing my time learning a system that has disenfranchised so many of our communities across the country for far too long.
It wasn’t until June 2015 that I went public with my legal status, when I became the first DREAMer to serve as an intern for the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Being one of the few DREAMers to be as visible and as politically active as I’ve become hasn’t been easy. I’ve felt intimidated and confused many times. However, my passion and commitment to support immigrant students and families has always been my driving force.
And while it may have not been easy, it has been truly empowering.
Credit: Courtesy of Cindy Nava-Miramontes
There have been times when I’d look around and wonder how many other young people working at the legislature, the halls of Congress or the Democratic National Committee were working for free like I was. How many of them were undocumented? The answer answer was, unfortunately and far too frequently, “no one else.”
How many of them worried about how they would pay tuition? How many of them worried about having enough gas to drive to the Capitol? Who else worried about what to say or how to speak? I’ve wished there was a “help” button to answer those questions. But the truth is that the path I’m on has not been fully cleared for me to walk upon. It is up to me to clear the road less traveled for undocumented students interested in policy and politics.
I recall a day that a driver’s license bill was to be heard on the Senate floor, and I decided to stay to listen. Thanks to the New Mexico majority leader, I was able to sit on the Senate floor, right next to his chair, and join him eating popcorn and hot tamales as heavy attacks and accusations began to fly from right-wing members. I can still see the face of a legislator who claimed that all undocumented immigrants were here to steal jobs and to live off the government. He said that undocumented immigrants were thieves and did not deserve to be here.
One could imagine that after hearing all of those harsh and personally demoralizing comments I should have been crying, but instead I sat there analyzing the facts: I was there interning for free. My parents have never received government money. My parents held up to three jobs in order to raise my siblings and me. It was at this moment that I reaffirmed the need for me to be there, and the importance of understanding the systems in order to create durable and permanent change.
Whether you are working behind the scenes, serving as scholar activists, working the front lines of rallies and demonstrations, working within educational institutions to change systems or serving as advocates to change policies and laws through legislative action, it is important to have advocates at all levels to set a strong and ethical example for the leaders of tomorrow. We must support and serve as true and genuine visionary leaders who remember where we came from and where we are going.
In the faces of the women cleaning the floors of Congress, I will forever see my mother’s reflection, and in the hands of the many construction workers across our immigrant nation, I will forever see my father’s life.