My name is Ari, and I am a DACA recipient. I am currently a student at the University of Miami, where I am completing a Ph.D. in STEM education. My story is very similar to the many DACA recipients' stories, but it is also different in the sense that I am also part of other minority groups.
I was born in a small town about two hours south of Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico. It is a very humble place near the beach where most of the people still live under third-world-country conditions. As a child, I had very limited resources. My parents were very poor and they could not afford much. My mother would buy me school uniforms and shoes that were two to three sizes bigger just so that I could wear them for a couple of years. Most of the time, my uniforms were mended and shoes repaired in order to make them last longer.
My father left us (my mother, brother, and I) when I was in fourth grade. My mother began to work several jobs at the time to keep food on the table because my father refused to contribute. Even though I was only in fourth grade, I learned at that age the power of education. My teacher once told me “good grades can turn into money.” I did not understand that at the time, but it all made sense once I was awarded a three-year scholarship that was conditional upon academic achievement. I was able to buy school supplies, uniforms, and food with that scholarship.
Even with the scholarship money, my mother was having a very difficult time making ends meet. So she decided to come to the US to give my brother and me a better life. I was at the beginning of seventh grade when she left. My brother stayed with my grandmother, and I was staying with one of my mother’s friends who lived in the city where my new school was (I was accepted at a regional magnet school in the city). Needless to say, being away from my family, my friends, and my hometown had a negative impact on me. I went from being the model student to being the worst. I failed the seventh grade and had to go to summer school. I moved back to my hometown after that, since the magnet school would not take me back.
Shortly after, my mother brought my brother and me to the US. We came here undocumented as well. I would not say it was very difficult to adapt to the city life, but it was not easy either. It was a culture shock. Slowly, I began to learn the language and get used to the culture. Eventually, I managed to graduate from my high school in the top 10% of my class, which gave me automatic admission to any public university in Texas. My plan was to attend Texas A&M, however, because of the lack of funds and inability to take out a loan, I was unable to attend. I went to El Centro College (a community college) instead, with the purpose of completing my basic requirements and transfer to a four-year university. I was awarded the Rising Star Scholarship at El Centro, which covered tuition and books.
Once I completed my associate’s degree at El Centro, I was going to transfer to the University of North Texas, where I had been awarded the Complete the Dream Scholarship. I decided to move out of my mother’s house that same year (I came out as gay and things became very difficult at home). Naturally, I was faced with the reality of having to supporting myself. I worked full-time and school became secondary. I dropped out eventually.
Almost seven years later, I decided to go back to school and finish my degree so I could become a teacher. The Complete the Dream scholarship and a university grant were able to cover tuition and books costs. I graduated Cum Laude from the University of North Texas. Fortunately, by the time I graduated, President Obama’s DACA order was already in place. The way was clear for me to begin my teaching career. After a year of teaching, I realized I needed more preparation so I enrolled at Southern Methodist University (SMU) to complete a Master of Education degree in Mathematics and STEM. It was expensive, but I was awarded a two-thirds of tuition grant that made it possible for me to afford it. It was there where I found my passion for high education, particularly research in STEM education focused on minority students. (I have this belief that when you are given an opportunity to succeed, you should always look back to help others follow your path. Going into the field of education and focusing on minorities allows me to do just that, to help my people succeed).
I graduated from SMU with a 3.95 GPA and received the Dean’s Award on my graduation year. By that spring, I had already applied at the University of Miami to pursue a Ph.D. in STEM education. Shortly after, I was accepted into the program and was awarded a full tuition scholarship as well as graduate student assistantship to support myself. I eventually left my second hometown (Dallas) to pursue my dreams. I now live in Miami where I am currently working on my degree.
There is absolutely no doubt that without DACA I would not have been able to make it this far in life, academically or otherwise. Without DACA I would not have been able to legally work as a teacher (or anything for that matter) and pay for my master’s degree. Without DACA I would also not have the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Miami. It would be simply too difficult to cover living costs without legally working. To say it shortly, DACA removed many of the obstacles that would have kept me from getting any further in my education. I would have had a bachelor’s degree that I could do absolutely nothing with. I would be working illegally at a low-paying job regardless of my level of education. The removal of DACA would mean losing everything I have worked for and my ability to continue working with my community and helping the younger generation further their education.
At a glance, my story might seem quite simple. But it is more complex than I can express in a few paragraphs. The purpose of sharing my story is to show that some of us have worked very hard in spite of the difficulties we have faced throughout our lives. To some of us, America is all we really know, whether we feel like we belong here or not. To me, America has offered me every opportunity to build a better future for my community and myself; something I would not have been able to do in my country of origin. I am nothing but grateful for those opportunities, and I feel like the only way to show that gratitude is to give back as much as I can to the country that has offered me everything. If at the end of the day, I am no longer welcomed here, I would leave knowing that this country offered me more than I ever expected. My hope, however, is that this America will continue to protect me with its mantle of stars and stripes. I do not demand anything, I simply ask to be given the opportunity to continue my academic pursuits and my work with my community, and eventually the opportunity to earn my right to be part of this great nation.