Feature Illustration by Salvador Jimenez

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
– from “Dreams” by Langston Hughes

Like many of you, I’m a daughter of sleepwalkers. Dreamers who left home chasing the abstract. A better life. A better future. A better legacy. These things that we cannot touch but that are strong enough to reinvent lives and redefine countries. My parents, like yours, were visionaries. They envisioned a life foreign from all they knew growing up in the cloudy mountainsides of Mexico. They came here. Barely literate. Financially unstable. But with grit and with gut. Their essence carried in a famous dicho: “No vine para ver si puedo. Sino, porque puedo vengo.” Through their herculean efforts, my parents clawed their way out of poverty and accomplished their dream. I’ve always attributed my opportunities to their efforts and to one major advantage I have: I happened to be born on this side of our tumultuous border. But what about the children who were “hechos en Mexico”? The ones who crossed the border in fear, too young to understand the vision guiding their parents. The ones who remember no life other than their life in the U.S. What do the estimated 65,000 undocumented high school students do after they worked hard to graduate but cannot afford college without the federal financial aid? Do they become, as Langston Hughes says, “broken-winged birds”? Not if we collectively do something about it, such as fight for immigration reform and for the Dream Act. And while it may be long before we see these things come to fruition, undocumented students are “coming out” in bold ways to bring attention to this issue and call for reform. In Miami, a group of undocumented students just completed a four-month, 1,500-mile-long journey to D.C. Aptly named The Trail of Dreams, the students have been trying to meet with President Obama to discuss immigration reform. In Chicago, brave undocumented students held a coming-out summit in January and plan on holding another one at today’s May Day March for Immigrant Rights. Then, last night, a dedicated group of UIC students carried out a brilliant idea–a fundraiser to establish a scholarship for undocumented students.

Last night the Coalition of Latino Students at UIC organized the first annual Dream Gala 2010 at the National Museum of Mexican Art. About 400 attendees, double the goal of 200, overflowed the museum to show their support and celebrate the students’ achievements. The night was full of inspirational speeches. Vicente Serrano, Chicago journalist and filmmaker of A Forgotten Injustice, served as the Master of Ceremonies and introduced keynote speaker Virginia Martinez, legislative staff attorney for MALDEF and UIC alumni. Martinez explained that instead of focusing on the insanity in Arizona, she would focus on honoring the achievements of undocumented UIC students. Her moving speech was followed later by a special awards ceremony for advocates of Latino college students. Professors Nilda Flores-Gonzalez, Ph.D and Amalia Pallares, Ph.D., received faculty awards. In their speeches, they expressed deep admiration for undocumented UIC students and heartbreak for the hard work families and students need to do to pay for college because of the lack of aid. UIC’s Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services Program (LARES) was recognized for 35 years of helping Latino students achieve their academic dreams. Jacqueline Herrera-Giron, J.D., Director of Legalization at Institute of Latino Progress, received an award for her community activism. She recalled the laborious jobs her immigrant parents took to provide a better life for her. Her parents’ strength, she explained, helped her overcome challenges she faced in law school. “Every time you see a challenge, think, ‘Si Se Puede’ porque ‘Si Se Pudo.'”

The highlight of the night was without a doubt student speaker Reyna Wences. Wences encompasses the essence of Dream Gala. She immigrated to the United States ten years ago, grew up like her peers, but never spoke about the one thing that made her stand apart from them. Growing up in the United States “opened my eyes to the opportunities here but closed my eyes to my reality–being undocumented.” Like many Latino immigrants, her parents told her that hard work would help her accomplish her dreams. Unfortunately, one major barrier was preventing that. Wences felt alone in her struggle until she went to UIC, where she met many students in the same situation. “We have the same dream–to be successful and be someone in life,” Wences explained. Her growing social awareness motivated her to work with the Immigrant Youth Justice League. She even took off one semester to advocate for the rights of undocumented students. Wences urged the attendees, “This is not the only thing you can do. We’re organizing. We need support of our community. I want to invite all of you to please fight with us.”

Last night was truly an inspirational night, where our community gathered to support the dreams of the next generation. As Wences called for, let’s join the fight to make sure our youth can “hold fast to dreams.” You can start today by joining the May Day March today at 1pm in Union Park to march for immigrant rights and immigration reform.

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