Financial Hardship / Making History / Stories

Karla E.

Karla E, 24, Chino, CA, Born in Mexico

karlaeAnthropologist and activist, I am on a mission: to teach until I can earn enough money for grad school where I will study forensic anthropology. But I’m not just focused on my own future, but on the future of all the Undocumented. Unlike my parents who keep a low profile, I’m outspoken and, thanks to DACA, have successfully received deferred-action status.

If the government tries to deport me, I will not go quietly. I will call attorneys and organizations and make my case on social media. I’m going to fight to stay in this country. This is my home.

I was first brought to the U.S. when I was five during Mexico’s recession when the economy collapsed causing my family to lose everything. My parents tried to return for a while when I was nine but re-entered the States when I was 13 and have been here ever since. We made our home in what was then a hostile California. Now our state is leading the nation in immigration reform. But the rhetoric from Prop 187 days is back and now has a national voice in the leading GOP presidential contender. The big difference these days is that the young Undocumented are more connected to our native-born peers, teachers and others in our community both on a personal level and through social media. We just want others to realize we have the same aspirations, work ethic and rights as those who were born in this country.

When my family first came to the States, every day was hard. Just finding enough money to buy milk for my nine-month-old brother was a challenge. But my parents got jobs and worked hard. They were away from home much of the time because of their long hours, but they did what they had to do to provide for us. They taught us how to endure and to achieve. They emphasized the importance of a good education. It was when I applied for university that I realized how much my life would be affected by my being Undocumented. My high school counselor told me that because I was Undocumented, I could never go to college, that I was better off going back to Mexico. My dreams were shattered but I enrolled in community college. There was no California Dream Act then, so I covered my fees and books by working while going to school. My parents kept me believing in myself and eventually I transferred to UCLA where I studied anthropology and graduated with a BA.

At one point my activism for immigration reform caused me to let my studies slide but my parents encouraged me to pursue the educational opportunities they had come to the States to find for their children. Now I balance my life better and I have even asked my parents to come listen to the stories of the Undocumented. My parents find the stories sad, but I find them powerful and motivating. My parents are proud of my courage and tenacity even as they worry about me.

I joined other Undocumented in protests in Costa Mesa and acts of civil disobedience in Washington. By 2010, I started to identify myself as “undocumented and unafraid.” When DACA was introduced, it changed my life. I could finally find a job that supported my studies. I was even able to take advantage of a UCLA study program, traveling to Europe to see firsthand all the art and architecture. I was inspired to continue my education and my activism. I started a blog, https://undocutravelers.wordpress.com, at UCLA which helped other undocumented students study abroad, to share the experiences I had had.

My advantages under DACA just make me realize that my parents are still living without any deferred-action protections, much less a path to citizenship. Deferred action is not enough. We need immigration reform for our parents who sacrificed everything to come to the States to provide a better future for their children. I am who I am because of all they taught me about being a good, hardworking person. I am much more than Undocumented. This term does not define me. I am an American in every way except on paper. I just want to be seen as a human being, not a stereotype. I’m a fighter and I plan to battle for my rights and those of all the Undocumented.