Financial Hardship / Making History / Stories

Rene A-P (Allen), 28, & Gabriela A-P (Sophy), 30, Pomona, CA, Born in Mexico

renegabyAllen and Sophy gave themselves new names to signify their new lives as they escaped starvation, violence, their father’s death and their mother’s abandonment. Orphaned, on their own as young teens, they felt that their only way out of poverty and hopelessness was to make the hazardous journey across the border to the U.S. They had worked to survive since they were children, so getting an education was never really a possibility. They came to the States in 1999 with nothing except their own determination to find a better life. Connecting with some distant family in New York, they found their lives basically unchanged — still filled with hardship and poverty — working full-time for poor wages in harsh conditions. They had come so far for what appeared to be nothing. Desperate for a change, Sophy contacted an acquaintance in California, Brian Roge Fonteyn, the son of a former neighbor for whom they worked when growing up in Mexico. It was a cross-country move that would change the lives of Allen and Sophy. Fonteyn’s kindness opened up a whole new world. He gave them a place to live, home-schooled them in English and enrolled them at Mt. San Antonio Community College, where they took every class they could. Sophy later transferred to Cal State L.A. and Allen went to UC Irvine. They worked their way through school as tutors and mentors and took advantage of every opportunity, including applying for DACA. They had a hard time getting into university because they didn’t attend high school. In California, AB 540 extends in-state tuition and provides eligibility for state financial aid to those completing three years and graduating from high school, regardless of immigration status. Allen and Sophy were finally able to get tuition fees waved when they qualified for AB 540 as exceptions. More help with college came from UC’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan for Allen and the California Dream Act for Sophy.

Having just graduated college, Sophy and Allen will work for a year to save money for graduate school. Sophy plans to pursue a career in social work. As an orphan, she feels she must help other children and earned her degree in child development and worked as a peer mentor/advisor at her university’s EOP/Dreamers Resource Center. Allen intends to work in the medical field, eventually as a doctor in underserved communities here and around the world. At UC Irvine, Allen worked as a peer mentor at the campus student outreach and retention center and co-chaired DREAMS UCI, an organization supporting undocumented students.

Both Sophy and Allen credit their adopted dad, Brian Fonteyn, with their survival and success. They believe they have to do for others what he did for them – open their hearts, spread kindness and provide opportunity. The one core value that has sustained them since childhood is tenacity, never giving up. And they’re not giving up on the hope that one day soon the U.S. will recognize the human rights of Undocumented Americans, who make this country greater and stronger by fulfilling and revitalizing the American Dream.