With the state of DACA up in the air, many who benefit from the executive order are afraid of what the future may hold. Blanca Ortiz and Juan Navarro were tired of being afraid and decided to take action and make their voices heard. The two shared their stories on what programs like DACA have done for them and why “Dreamers” are an important part of the community.
Students and faculty gathered in the Albany Campus courtyard on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at noon for “Dreamer Day,” an hour long event in support of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA.
“Dreamer Day” was being put on by the LBCC Our Revolution Club in partnership with the Diversity Achievement Center and LBCC Institutional Equity and Student Engagement. Ortiz and Navarro gave testimonies on how DACA and programs like it have impacted their lives and given them a chance to live their dreams.
Ortiz, a mother of two and former LBCC student, was 9 years old when she came to the United States. She spoke about her experiences as a child growing up in the United States, and explained that she had to get up at 3:30 a.m. on weekdays to pick apples before going to school at 8 a.m.
“One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to graduate from school. I wanted to make a difference, I was tired of working out in the fields, I was tired of working out in the cold,” said Ortiz.
Her dream became a reality as she eventually went on to attend classes at LB, but had difficulties paying off her tuition because as an undocumented immigrant, she was unable to work.
Ortiz was unable to qualify for DACA since she was born before June 16, 1981, but she was able to get documentation through a program called Family Unity. The program allows immigrants to gain employment authorization if they are the spouse or unmarried child of a legalized alien, which must be renewed every two years.
“People ask ‘Why not be legal?’. It’s not that easy,” said Ortiz who has been working to achieve permanent residency for 31 years now.
Ortiz is currently the owner of her own fitness and nutrition business in Albany and worries about her and other Dreamers’ futures who impact the local community.
“Don’t cut Dreamers’ wings, don’t put up obstacles. There’s so many Dreamers out there and they have so many abilities that they can use to do good things for this country,” said Ortiz.
The other speaker was Juan Navarro, an OSU graduate who is currently working on his master’s degree in college student services. Navarro was brought to the U.S. at the age of 3 when his parents were told by doctors that he would never walk.
“What is a parent supposed to do? A parent is supposed to do all that they can for their child,” said Navarro.
He was brought to a Shriner’s hospital and admitted as a research patient in 1995. Twelve years of physical therapy and six surgeries later, Navarro walked for the first time when he was 15 years old.
He later went on to attend Chemeketa Community College in Salem. However, due to his inability to work as an undocumented immigrant he could only afford to go to school part-time.
His third year at Chemeketa was when DACA was signed as an executive order. Navarro said he felt safer to pursue his dreams and become a more vocal member of the community. He went on to talk about how his dream when he finishes out his master’s degree is to work at a community college or a University as a mentor and inspiration to members of the Latin community.
“My dream is to come back to a community college or a university and be like the Javier Cervantez of an institution. I want to be the Juan Navarro of an institution where people will come to me and say ‘I got motivated by you’ or ‘I am this because of you,’” said Navarro.
Navarro’s work permit expires in two years, which is roughly around the time he will finish his master’s degree program. This would leave him unable to work if DACA is repealed.
“Imagine that you work hard for something, you do everything right, and then you don’t get that thing,” said Navarro.
Navarro encouraged the crowd to take a stand for Dreamers and show their support by contacting Oregon’s U.S. representatives and urge them to support DACA.
The DAC’s Director of Institutional Equity & Student Engagement Javier Cervantez also spoke to students and asked them to consider the stories the two speakers had shared and to take a stand against ignorance.
“It takes a lot of courage to do what our two speakers did today, they’ve come out of the shadows, they are no longer invisible,” said Cervantez.
“I ask you all who have the privilege of being United States citizens and U.S. residents to not turn a blind eye. To do something and say something when it is appropriate.”
President of LBCC Greg Hamann, who was present for the event, shared his thoughts on Dreamers and DACA.
“Dreamers are a part of our community, they are a part of us. We have to think in terms of why would we exclude anyone? Why would we pick a subset of our community and push them away?” said Hamann.
Robert Harrison, the faculty advisor of the Our Revolution Club and one of the key organizers of the event, was happy with the two speakers’ messages.
“Both speakers spoke from their hearts about how painful it can be when you can’t get your dream or when you are deferred from it, ” said Harrison.
“They spoke about their struggles very eloquently and I thought that they both really urged people like us who are citizens to do something. Sure it’s great to come out and listen but there’s other things we can do as well. It was fantastic and I was lucky to have them here for this event.”
Ortiz was proud to share her story and explained what kind of an impact a voice and a dream can have.
“We are in a country that uses a constitution, we have freedom of speech. The worst thing that we can do right now is be silent. If one word can encourage somebody and touch their heart to make a difference, then it’s worth it,” said Ortiz.
“There’s monuments because people have dreams, go for it, what do we have to lose?”
Navarro shared the same outlook and also described what DACA meant to him.
“Being a Dreamer, our single best weapon is our stories. That’s how we change the narrative from people calling us criminals and rapists, to have people understand us as human beings,” said Navarro.
“DACA means a lot, it means freedom. I was able to finish school, I’m living the American dream, going to grad school and getting it paid for because of my hard work.”
With DACA’s future uncertain, both Ortiz and Navarro are still hopeful for the future. They believe sharing their stories will inspire others to come out of the shadows and share theirs.
“Telling my story is powerful because it is the only thing I have. I cannot live in the shadows anymore. I’m going to go down swinging, metaphorically speaking. I have to go down that way because what good does it do for me to hide? A silenced voice is just as bad as the oppressor’s voice,” said Navarro.
Story by Joshua Stickrod
Photos by Angela Scott