Miriam Tellez came to the U.S. from Mexico City when she was 8. She attended Pasadena schools, learned English and graduated from high school. Earning a college degree has always been her goal.
Now a junior at Cal State Fullerton, it was the California Dream Act that made it possible for undocumented students like Tellez to attend college. But it wasn’t until she walked through the doors of the Titan Dreamers Resource Center that she knew her dream is possible.
“Growing up I had to hide my undocumented identity. I felt I didn’t belong anywhere — not here or in my home country since I had been gone so long,” Tellez said. “But when I came to the center for the first time, I finally felt a sense of belonging, a space I belonged in — a place to inform and empower me.”
Henoc Preciado, the center’s founding coordinator, has worked to create a “safe space” for undocumented students since the center’s opening more than two years ago. He has been counselor, mentor and friend to scores of undocumented students who seek advice, support and solace.
“I’ll never be able to put into words the challenges and obstacles these students face,” Preciado said as a crowd of students gathered inside the center.
“These are students who have been told repeatedly by teachers, the government, family and friends that they could not attain a college education. But they persevered, and here they are, working hard to graduate from college.”
As many as 75 students visit the center on the second floor of Pollak Library on any given day; they come for study, fellowship and friendship. They also seek information, often about state and national immigration policies and legislation that may affect their ability to remain in the U.S.
Dreamers’ Safe Space
The center — the first in the California State University system — and its staff remain committed to supporting undocumented students in reaching their educational goals, said Preciado.
Students at the center have become worried about their futures, as well as the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) federal program, Preciado said. DACA allows undocumented youth who meet certain requirements to remain in the country and obtain a work permit.
“Undocumented youth are afraid that the new administration will discontinue DACA; they are concerned that they or their families may be deported,” said Julián Jefferies, assistant professor of literacy and reading education who conducts workshops at the center on such issues as how to navigate college and apply to graduate school. He also is researching the experiences of undocumented students.
Tellez is an example of that uncertainty. She holds two campus jobs, including working at the center. “My biggest fear is losing my jobs and not having income to pay for living expenses like rent, food and books.”
Preciado and his team provide programs and services that are designed to improve student retention and graduation rates, including workshops on such topics as studying abroad, financial aid and money management. For CSUF’s undocumented students, Preciado said the center’s message remains clear: Don’t give up on your dreams.
Tellez, who is studying sociology, isn’t giving up either.
“Being a dreamer means not being invisible and not being afraid to demand human rights for myself and other undocumented students,” she said. “The center is our source for support and advocacy — our home away from home.”
For photos, visit CSUF Photos.