Tuesday morning began with communal prayer with the Norbertines and breakfast fellowship with our group. From there, we journeyed across town to the University of New Mexico campus with the charge of learning from a real life Dream Team.
El Centro de la Raza is an ever-evolving and symbiotic group of students, faculty, staff community members and families, striving to stand together against oppression and transcend geographic and cultural communities for the achievement of collective power through life-long learning. The organization was established in the 1960s for students and by students to provide a safe haven to learn, experience and grow. El Centro is home to some dynamic individuals, passionate about finding educational opportunities for everyone, especially friends from the south who have crossed the border illegally. These vibrant, hard-working advocates are affectionately known as the Dream Team.
Like any well-oiled machine, many unique moving parts are needed in order for the whole to function properly. El Centro is comprised of folks from all walks of life; those with citizen status and those considered undocumented immigrants. I’d like to share the very personal story of the latter.
In order to truly grasp the depth of someone’s struggle, one must first strive to identify the person. Many advocates and allies of the Dream Team risk deportation simply from attaching their name to such a public outreach effort. For the purpose of this story, I’ll refer to the subject as “Lee.” Born in Mexico, Lee came from a good family. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a respected police officer. Lee came to the U.S. with an official passport on a near-yearly basis to visit extended family living in New Mexico. Because of these trips, she became quite familiar with the Albuquerque area, though never in her wildest dreams did she believe it would one day become her home.
As time went on, the safe family life Lee once knew in Mexico became filled with uncertainty. Police began being targeted by vigilante groups, resulting in the deaths of many officers. After a string of attacks, Lee’s family believed it was only a matter of time before her father was targeted and killed. Thus, they made the difficult decision to leave behind the life they knew for the hope of a better life across the border.
Lee’s transition to the U.S. was not an easy one. School was wrought with bullying, depression and a lack of social graces so often expected and revered by our youth. Without a social security number, Lee couldn’t get a job or even attend college . . . so she thought.
In the mid-2000s, New Mexico passed legislation to allow undocumented immigrants admission to state schools for the price of in-state tuition. This became the yellow brick road that Lee needed to break her stride. She began working towards DACA status for herself and her brother, as well as becoming heavily involved in El Centro. Today, Lee acts as the high school outreach coordinator, providing education and training to undocumented high school students wishing to make the dream of higher education their reality.
Stories like Lee’s, while moving and unique, are not uncommon. Millions have left behind families, homes, cultures and history to pursue a better life on U.S. soil. It may seem absurd to those of us fortune enough to be a natural born citizen. And yet, if roles were reversed, how hard would you work to make the dream of a better life for you and your family come true?