Chapel Hill, NC
Hi. Isn't this exciting? I've been dreaming about building this site for a while now. I just needed some time to learn the way of web development.
I have created a website in an effort to help undocumented students pursue higher education. I have dealt with this problem myself. I have a passion for helping my people. I've tried many different things, and this is just another attempt at helping. Hope you enjoy.
See, when I was in high school (I'm 19 by the way), I remember feeling like I had no options when it came to college. I tried real hard. I had great grades, I was in a college-prep program with UNC-CH, bilingual wasn't enough so I took French, I played in the band, I played soccer/football. I took honors and AP classes. For my electives, I decided to learn about drafting and Computer Aided Design, animation and video editing, audio engineering. I tried to get anything I could, in hopes that one of those would be my ticket to a good future.
But It's not that simple. I met a group of high schoolers who were fighting for immigrant rights. They taught me the ridiculous setbacks North Carolina places on undocumented students who want to be successful. I always knew I was undocumented, but didn't fully know what it meant for my future.
I eventually became a core member of that group, the Immigrant Youth Forum. We got the Chapel Hill/Carrboro city school board to sign a letter of support of undocumented students in the educational system. We helped make an anti-racism comic book. We went on the radio, organized youth summits, adult know-your-rights trainings, coming out-rallies, marches for various issues, lobbying.
One time we even organized a civil disobedience event. Five undocumented youth who each had been in North Carolina for at least a decade, were arrested after demanding Wake Tech, a large community college, in-state tuition. That was Summer 2013, before my senior year. It was on TV, the newspapers. You can read more about it here.
When I was a senior, I applied to the Golden Door Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship. I remember thinking this was the biggest award. I also remember thinking it was my only shot. It was open for students in and around North Carolina. I was told there were about 400 applicants that year, all wanting a higher education—and those were only the ones who had heard about it and hoped they could win. I went to the finals, with about 20 other students. My family and me drove down to South Carolina for multiple interviews, at least eight hours long. I told them all about me. As a student, always staying in and staying up. As an immigrant who was sold the American Dream and will keep working for it until he succeeds. As an older brother trying to set a good example for my younger sister. As an activist, trying to help my people. Then I waited.
On Thanksgiving day, I get the call and find out I didn't make it.
That was it.
That was the only shot I had. Now I had no money, no hope of money, no schools accepting me because I had no money. I can't fill out the FAFSA application. Nothing.
After a couple months I hear about another scholarship, this one was really local (Chapel Hill/Carrboro city school system only), and was specifically for undocumented students with/or eligible for DACA. This time it was only about 20 applicants. No crazy interviews, just some essays. Even though I hate essays, I have time to perfect my ideas, while in an interview, with your whole future on the line, full-ride or no-ride, it can become difficult to stay calm and give your best answers. I waited. Then I get a letter in the mail:
On behalf of the Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship Program and Triangle Community Foundation, we would like to thank you for submitting your scholarship application.
I am pleased to confirm that you have been selected as a runner up..."
I was given a second chance at life and I blew it.
To my surprise, a few days later, I received an email saying that the winner had an alternate scholarship and was giving this one to the runner-up.
I won! The craziest thing was that I knew the winner. She was another member of IYF. She had applied to UNC-CH and recieved a full scholarship. I'm so proud of her.
Anyways, I began my first semester of college at Durham Tech. Nothing complicated. Then, around mid-semester, I get an email saying that a new program is starting up and is offering free classes to Latinos and other minorities in hopes of showing them an alternate career path: coding.
Free classes? Oh yeah let's go! I showed interest and got in. I finished the class, and more importantly, I had enjoyed it. I kept in contact with Dan, Executive Director at Uniting NC and coordinator of the Code the Dream class I had just finished. He told me there was this program available where they teach you to code in three months time.
"It's really intense, it costs $12,000 and you'll probably have to stop going to school and work (I was bussing tables at Vin Rouge). But it's a great opportunity to learn lots of things and possibly get a job afterwards". I was excited so I applied but unfortunately the classes were full.
I began my second semester at Durham Tech, and this time I chose Intro to Programming as one of my courses. Then about mid-semester I heard from Dan that The Iron Yard was starting up again in the Summer, 2015. Their first week was Durham Tech's last week of the Spring semester. This time I applied earlier and I went to all the interviews. They were real nice, inviting, and understanding. I felt that they were more interested in who I was and where I was at in life. They asked me why I had decided to pursue this career. Truth was, I didn't see myself capable of a career without a college education, but I rolled with it.
I was accepted. Dan said he had spoke to some people and that Code the Dream would sponsor me on this new journey. I needed a Mac for class, TIY provided one. Then classes began. Everyone was real friendly. It was strange, though. Everyone came from different paths of life but had all decided to dedicate 3 months into starting over with coding. A lot of these people were college educated. There were Aerospace Engineers, PhD's, teachers, police officers, IBM; with wives, kids, pets; one was even pregnant during the whole course. I didn't have any those things. Really, I had just gotten out of high school. Nevertheless, there I was, standing right next to them. I thought I might have an advantage because of the semester of Intro to Programming and the One Month course I took with Dan. In reality, it didn't do much. We covered 80% of what I learned at Durham Tech in just the first two days. The One Month course helped only a little in week 4 of 12. Work was a minimum 60 hrs/wk. I swear, I was doing 100 some weeks. Still. I did all the work and worked well in teams on group assignments.
After graduation from the academy, some students moved, some became Teacher Assistants for the next batch of students, some were hired by tech companies. I applied to a few places but no response. It was ok, though. I had something bigger on my mind. See, back at the academy, on Pitch Day, where we throw ideas/problems out and get into teams and fix them with everything we had learned, I pitched of a place I had only wished I had when I was back in high school, back when I was in the dark about opportunities. I've learned that there are so many opportunities out there. You just need perseverance and the connection. I envisioned a place where an undocumented student could go to and find answers, a community just like them, people who want to help. Not to brag, but my pitch was great. However, I believe I was pitching it to the wrong crowd. Out of the 50+ students, I only knew of one other undocumented immigrant. The rest were unacquainted with the issue. They probably thought we couldn't build a site like that in 2 weeks time.
Well, here it is. And this is just the beginning.
I had to work in small doses because my family also needs me. When I wasn't coding, I was helping with preparing for parties, cleaning houses with my mom, practicing my readings for Spanish liturgy, choir practice, Hispanic Heritage Month events, interviews, and playing video games, haha. I even went to Chicago to speak about this issue at the beginning of November for APHA's 2015 conference. It was a great experience. I was a participant in a UNC-CH research study. We turned the study into great information, and we presented it over there. About 12,000 people attend. You know, no big deal. But anyways.
Here it is.