Sudents joined to celebrate “National Coming Out of the Shadows” week.
Video by Luis Rodriguez
Standing on the green lawn of Independence Mall Saturday, 23-year-old Maria Marroquín declared it a “good day.”
In front of a crowd of friends, family and supporters, Marroquín declared herself “undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.”
As part of “National Coming Out of the Shadows” week – which ended March 21 – and DreamActivist.org’s rally, six undocumented youth shared their stories and tears while voicing support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which failed, 55-41, in the Senate last December.
“There are days when I cry myself to sleep … wishing something so simple as wanting an education wasn’t so difficult because I’m undocumented,” said Marroquín, who is the co-founder of DreamActivist.org’s Pennsylvania chapter and helped plan the rally. “But I also have good days, days when I realize being undocumented will not stop me from living a good life.”
After listening to each story – including Temple senior Pamela Salazar-Linares’ speech – the crowd of supporters, marched from Independence Mall to the United States Customs House at 200 Chestnut St. with banners and signs while chanting things, such as, “No paper, no fears, immigrants are marching here,” and “Si se puede, yes we can.”
Salazar-Linares, who majors in information, science and technology and Spanish, grew up undocumented in the Olney section of North Philadelphia after her parents brought her to the U.S. when she was 8 months old.
The crowd of supporters included students from Temple, the University of Pennsylvania, Cabrini College, Swarthmore College and Eastern University.
Marching alongside community activists and fellow students, junior education major Mariko Franz held her daughter Amaya, whose father is undocumented.
After finding out about the rally through Facebook, Franz said she took great interest. While she has supported the DREAM Act for moral and political beliefs, she said her daughter’s life made rallies like DreamActivist.org’s important.
“For her sake, I don’t want her to have to grow up fearing her father will be taken away,” said Franz, who will graduate next year from Temple.
Though he is not undocumented, sophomore political science major Rey Ramirez said he has friends who are. Ramirez ventured to the rally to show solidarity, with hopes that politicians, such as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), will begin to take notice.
“When he was asked about the DREAM Act, the only thing he said was, ‘I don’t know enough about it,’” Ramirez said. “I could teach him a little bit about it.”
Passage of the DREAM Act would allow undocumented youth meeting the act’s requirements the opportunity to pursue citizenship and open doors to enlisting in the military or enrolling in a college or university.
While some undocumented students get accepted to higher learning institutions, it is not without struggle. Without a Social Security number, many pay tuition at the international-student rate and cannot get financial aid.
Rally speaker Omar Garcia came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 11 when his parents attained visas. At Cedar Cliff High School in Carlisle, Pa., Garcia was the 2008 class president and participated in sports.
But after applying to Temple, Shippensburg University, Slippery Rock University, Millersville University and Bloomsburg University, Garcia heard nothing back from them. He said the universities neither denied nor accepted him.
“All that stood in my way was a Social Security number that I could not attain with hard work and dedication,” Garcia said in his “coming out” speech. “I have dreams for a bright future, only to be turned away from the country I consider home.”
Similarly, Karina Ambartsoumian, whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Ukraine when she was 4 years old, said she struggled to understand why the country she had grown up in seemed to reject her and her family.
After 9/11, her parents were put on house arrest. When Ambartsoumian got into Villanova University, she wrote a letter to the president, Rev. Peter Donohue, asking for help pursuing financial aid. Ambartsoumian said he told her the case was “too complicated.”
While attending Villanova, she was fired from her on-campus job.
Ambartsoumian could only afford two semesters and a few summer classes before she had to put her education on hold. That was in 2006.
“Because I’m diabetic, I have to pay a lot of medical out-of-pocket, and tuition has gotten a lot higher,” said Ambartsoumian, who is doing nonprofit work while saving money by working in the food industry. “I would have considered going to Temple, but I just found out Temple is losing its funding and tuition will probably go up. Because I’m paying out-of-pocket, it would just be impossible.”
Marroquín is also putting her dream on hold.
Though Marroquín received an associate’s degree in social sciences from Montgomery County Community College in 2010, it took her five years to complete because of costs and her undocumented status. Marroquín said she would like to pursue law school, but for now, she’ll continue to organize and plan events through DreamActivist.org to activate the population.
“Today we had six undocumented youth who decided to come out of the shadows,” Marroquín said. “Hopefully we changed people’s minds by putting a face to the immigration issue.”
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.