Alumnus of the Month
August 2015 Alumnus of the Month
Hometown: Long Beach, CA
CHCI Program(s)/Year: Public Policy Fellowship, 2002-2003
CHCI Program Placement(s): Office of Congressman Xavier Becerra
Current Position/Organization: Senior Staff Attorney, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP), Florence, AZ
1. Many CHCI alumni and current program participants have battled and continue to battle common challenges as they strive to become Latino leaders in their communities: living and working in low-income communities, some in single-parent households, as recent immigrants, DREAMERS, or first-generation American citizens. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are today?
In 1990, I immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. I was 10 years old then and did not speak any English. I was undocumented until my junior year of college. Growing up with parents who never attended school themselves gave me an appreciation for an education.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
My college professor and mentor, Dr. Ron Schmidt, told me about CHCI. I did not have a job or graduate school lined up after graduation, so I applied. The (CHCI public policy) fellowship opened up a whole new world to me on the East Coast. I had no idea what life on the East Coast was like as a Central American immigrant who grew up in California.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
In 2003, I enrolled at University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. In 2006, I went to South Texas to work with unaccompanied minors who immigrate to the United States. This is the work I have been doing as an attorney ever since.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
(My CHCI experience) gave me a feeling that I belonged at the table and that my personal contribution to immigration law was not something to leave on the table for others to decide.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
I serve the immigrant community, particularly children, in Arizona. In 2011, I came here because I wanted to do something about what is happening here. In 1995, I was 15 years old when Proposition187 was passed in California and I remember feeling afraid of being (expelled) from high school because of my immigration status. When I moved to Arizona, I was a 30 year old and a licensed attorney from California. (Now,) there was something I could do for others – so here I am.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
(In 5-10 years, I see myself) doing immigration law; growing in my understanding of what shapes the immigration debate at the heart of it all. I want to write a book about my personal story to contribute to other children who can see themselves in me.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Expose yourself to everything you can; the world really is small. Be open and connect with others on a human level. Stand for something, not against something. When you hit a fork in the road, guide yourself by that purpose/vision for you stand. For example, I stand for love and justice. Sometimes justice does not come from a court proceeding for an immigrant child; sometimes it comes merely from being heard and validated. My stand sometimes lives on in simply being with a child rather than litigating a claim. Be your stand. Sometimes it may not look like what others expect. Nevertheless, be your stand. Stand tall. Stand steady. When you stand in your vision, the universe will meet you.