We all have heard the phrase that parents would do anything for their children, and my mom was no exception. When I was about eleven years old, my mom, my brother and I left El Salvador because of poverty, violence, and lack of opportunity. We packed our hopes and dreams, and our desire to stay, to start a new life. One that would allow me to achieve an education and become the outlier in my family, to do something meaningful with my life.
After high school, I learned that if I wanted an education, I was going to have to work twice as hard to get it. After my first semester at Holyoke Community College (HCC), I was approved for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), designed to protect and grant some rights toimmigrant youth who’d come to the United States as children. I was able to get a work permit and a driver’s license. However, the Financial Aid Office at HCC told me that I could not get in-state tuition even though Massachusetts had just implemented the policy, and I had to advocate for myself. I printed out the document which states that DACA beneficiaries are eligible for in-state tuition at all public colleges and universities in Massachusetts, handed it into the Financial Aid Office and explained to them what DACA was, and the few benefits that came with it. After a few calls to confirm the information, I was granted in-state tuition.
That first experience made me want to become an advocate for the immigrant community. I volunteered with the Admissions Coordinator/Counselor and worked to make HCC more accessible to undocumented and DACAmented students. I attended transfer events to talk to students about college accessibility and scholarships. In my spare time, I also taught English to immigrant mothers with the Head Start program in Springfield, MA. I have also taken many courses about immigration, which has given me a new framework of understanding about the immigrant experience. I became passionate and at times, enraged about what seems to be a repetitive cycle of injustice toward immigrants. Underestimating skills, recycling stereotypes, and assigning the hardest work at the lowest rates — this is the cycle I want to disrupt.
Now, at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC), I have been able to continue doing what I love. I have interpreted for clients, helped with housing applications, filled out U-visas, conducted research, and learned about asylum cases, all while also bonding with our clients over our mutual love for pupusas and tamales. At HIRC, I have been able to combine my passion for service with active learning. I have found a community of mentors and peers who have welcomed me with open arms.
Like my mother, who made a difference in my world, who dreamt of a better future for me, I would like to devote my life to service to others. I hope to help change the lives of undocumented immigrants living in the United States who, because of our broken immigration system, are often denied fundamental human rights. After all, “Doing for others is just the rent you must pay for living on this earth” – Johnnetta B. Cole.
This post was written by HIRC summer intern Angelica Merino Monge. Angelica is a student at Bard College in New York and she is currently working towards her bachelor’s degree in Political Studies and Human Rights.