Talented young immigrants confront many barriers to achieving their dreams, many of which were inspired by their American schooling. In this excerpt, Margarita Pérez tells of her experience of graduating from high school and facing her future without legal papers.
Marina López: You were just telling me that from one moment to another, “poof”! You realized that you were intelligent, that if you set your will to do it, you could study and do well. What are your dreams now?
Margarita Perez: Like, what I want to study?
MP: I want to study to be—I want to be a doctor and I know I can. It could take some work, but I know that I can do it. But if I can study here even if I study all the courses if I find a way to go to college, I could not work anyway. What is the point then of studying here if I cannot work?
ML: How was that process in which you realized that you are intelligent, you were able to finish two years in one? How did you live through that process, and then realize I can go just this far, after this point I cannot study anymore?
MP: Sometimes I get sad because when I go downtown, I work and sometimes they send me there with my mother. We clean houses. They call me to go there. Sometimes we are there around one in the afternoon and I see a lot of students, a lot of guys and girls, leaving from college. They are walking, maybe on their way to or from school or from one class to another and I remember that once while talking with my counselor I started crying because I wanted to go to college, but I do not have the opportunity to do it, at least not here. I do not have the opportunity to do it here and that made me sad because I really want to do it, but I do not have the opportunity to do it at this moment.
ML: When you were in high school and you talked to your guidance counselor did somebody know that you could not study here? Did somebody speak to you about your educational options?
MP: Yes, I remember once that they hosted a college recruiter and the recruiter came over and told me that I could study there and she invited me to fill out an application to get me there. But I explained that I could not. I know that I cannot even if she tried. She did not know that I’m illegal. Once I told the college that I was illegal they stopped bothering me because they knew that I could not attend. They stopped asking and they did not offer me any other options.
MG: They never told you if you could go to school in another state, if you could do something else?
MP: No, always, when I told them that I was illegal, they would not tell me anything else.
MG: They did not tell you anything else.
MG: We were just talking, before we started recording, about the Dream Act and the kids who are saying that they have no papers and that they want to go to school and they are campaigning in favor of the Dream Act. At any time had you heard about that while you were in school?
MP: Yes, I heard about it several times in the news, while I was in school. I remember hearing from a young lady who wanted, that she was doing something about the Dream Act. But really, I have not heard anything about it in the news. “Primer Impacto" I think it was, they were reporting about the Dream Act and how several students were on strike for it or something like that.
ML: And here in Charleston are there any more Hispanic students with you in school?
MP: Yes, I had other friends, other female friends.
ML: In the same situation like you, without having papers?
MP: One of them. One of them did not have papers. She was going to go back to her country to be able to study there.
ML: Did you talk among yourselves at all about the Dream Act? What could be done? Could you join other students from other states? Or not?
MP: No, we never talked about it. It is not that we limited ourselves, but it was not something popular there, The Dream Act. There was not too much publicity about it here or in Mt. Pleasant. There is not much conversation about it. That usually takes place where there are a lot of Hispanics, where there are more Hispanic people. Because there are not many here. I never heard much about it.
ML: So you did not have much information from the people at school about what you would be able to do, your options in regards to your education? The people at school did not know or they would not tell you much. On the other hand, there is not much political organization to be able to talk to somebody or get involved with somebody. At any time did you look on the internet? At any time did you write somebody or take part in a forum?
MP: I remember that I tried because I did not know if I needed papers for that or not. But it was obvious, I suppose. I tried to get into a military school here to see if they asked me for papers. Later they called me and told me that they could not do it, that I really needed papers, social security. Later I was told by a guy who spoke Spanish who said that I could, but that it would cost me like a thousand dollars a year or a month, something like that to be able to study here, but I could not study whatever I wanted. I could only become a receptionist of something, something about computers, I do not know. It was nothing that I wanted to be, and anyway I learned during that time that even if I study I could not work without a social security card.
ML: What are your options now, Magui?
MP: I am thinking I might go to school in Mexico City. I am considering going to a military university, or something related to government. I want to study to be a nurse. If I am able to get in, I want to study to be a nurse and a doctor. That’s what I am thinking, but my mother does not want me to go.
ML: Why does she not want you to go?
MP: She tells me that Mexico is dangerous. Being away from Mexico for too long. I do not know how people are. When I was a kid I saw things differently because as a kid you see things differently than as an adult. If I go now she says that things are going to be completely different.
ML: And the parents are more careful than the children. What are your fears? Not your mother’s fears. What are your worries in respect to going to school in Mexico? How do you imagine it?
MP: On one hand, I would like to go to school. I like the idea of going to school. I like the idea of studying and doing something. I like that a lot. What I am scared of is the killings, especially in Mexico City and other places. I do not know. That makes me afraid and the fact that I do not know anybody there. Things have changed a lot, like the news is showing. It is not what it used to be. It is going to be something new. It is going to be something totally different to what I am used to. Right now I am living here and I do not have a bad life. Here, I have a good life. I do not know if I go there if life is going to be different.
ML: What are you afraid of?
MP: I am afraid that I may not be able to get into the school. I know that there are opportunities. I know that I could work because I speak English. I know that I can work at a good place like the airport or something like that, but that is not something that could provide what I need to live. It is not something that would be enough to live on and I am afraid of not being able to go to school. If I go there I am afraid of not being able to go to school, but not being able to see my mom because she does not want to go there.