'I Am a Dreamer': Dreaming of Education, the L.A. River, Health, Immigration Reform -- and Soccer

Anahuak Youth Sports Association and Allies Celebrate the Community Victories for Rio de Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard and Los Angeles State Historic Park at the Cornfield, April 2002. Dayana Molina is standing three people to the left of Governor Grey Davis. Anahuak founder Raul Macias and Robert Garcia are to the right of the Governor.

Dayana Molina immigrated to the United States from Mexico with her family when she was eight years old. She is an organizer and community advocate who exemplifies the values of Green Justice in her own life and work. She was undocumented here until May 2013, when she received dreamer status under the temporary federal program for young undocumented residents. Dayana tells us about her dream status, and her community organizing work.

Are you a dreamer?

Yes, I am a dreamer.

What is a dreamer?

To most a dreamer is anyone that seeks to make their dreams come true, as impossible as they may seem. A dreamer to me is exactly this with the added struggle of having no voice or rights because I was born on the wrong side of the border. The dreamers of today are thousands of young immigrants who have been granted the opportunity to work legally and to seek a higher education. Dreamers are hardworking, passionate, driven young adults. Our most admirable quality is perseverance when so many doors have been shut in our faces. We understand that an education is worth fighting for. As dreamers we face the world with a smile and serve our communities for a better tomorrow even when our own future may not be brighter at all.

When did you get dreamer status?

I received dreamer status for two years on May 10, 2013, under President Barack Obama's program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program stops deportation of eligible young adults. I am eligible to work, pay taxes, drive, and travel within the U.S. I do not have permanent resident status, a path to citizenship, or the right to vote. I am grateful because this program is opening doors for me, but I would like to go farther. I want to build a future in this country. My lack of permanent status makes my future here ominous

I have been a dreamer since I arrived in this country from Acapulco Guerrero, Mexico, when I was eight years old. My parents brought me to this country because our future in my birthplace was dim. My family first took a plane to Tijuana. With the help of coyotes -- people who get paid to smuggle immigrants in -- we were all able to cross the border without papers. The land which we dreamed would save me from a dark future has set many hurdles in my path, and so kept me in a twilight zone.

Organizer Dayana Molina at The Time Is Now Immigration Rally, Washington, D.C., 2013
Organizer Dayana Molina at The Time Is Now Immigration Rally, Washington, D.C., 2013

What was it like to grow up without immigration papers?

Having no papers didn't affect me during grammar school. As I became a teen I started to notice my lack of status. As high school graduation approached I had a major break down. This was the first time my status drove me to tears. I was desperate. My classmates were excited about embarking on their next journey, while I was still wondering what my next step would be. I didn't know if it was even possible for a person like me to attend a college or university. I had questions, many fears, and no mentor to turn to. To this day I'm not sure if my high school college counselor was aware of my situation. Maybe if I had been the person I am now I would have surpassed my fears and asked for help. Facing the world without immigration papers after high school forced me to grow up very quickly. I became the outspoken young adult I am now because I realized my silence had gotten me nowhere.

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Did the lack of immigration papers cause any problems for you?

Yes. I feel it made me into an introverted student. I knew I was different and my fear was becoming an outcast if anyone found out I was "not legal." Everything I had learned in school led me to feel that I was somehow at fault or guilty of some crime. So I went through high school posing as a normal student, but I didn't feel normal. I lacked confidence and the sense of security that every child should have. I was ashamed to seek any help. And not much help was available. Not many people talked about immigrant university students. My lack of papers made it impossible for me to attend any of the four universities I was admitted to. I couldn't afford tuition and getting any loans was out of the question. Most scholarships were just not for me because I had no papers.

I did not have a valid ID. I couldn't do the things young adults do. I don't mean going to bars and smoke lounges, I simply wanted to have proof that I was me. I wanted to cash my check at a bank and to open a bank account. It wasn't until I got a Mexican consulate ID and someone to vouch that I was me that I was able to open a bank account. Even then, people assumed my ID was fake.

Dayana as goalie, Anahuak Youth Sports Association, age 14
Dayana as goalie, Anahuak Youth Sports Association, age 14

How has dream status affected your life?

Dream status has allowed me to do more of what I love. I love fighting to better my community, implementing change, and educating others so they have a brighter future. I have never been ashamed of being an immigrant. However, I was afraid of not being accepted. Dream status is a kind of acceptance, but it is not permanent and it is not a solution. I carry myself with more confidence. I no longer have to settle for a dead end job. Most importantly this dream status has inspired me to finish my education. I see this as the first step towards something more permanent. I do understand that it is not going to be handed to me. I need to voice my opinion and demand it.

What is the Anahuak Youth Sports Association? What activities have you been involved in?

Anahuak is a nonprofit organization started by Raul Macias in 1994 to serve youth and their families in impoverished Northeast Los Angeles. Anahuak provides affordable soccer programs, and much, much more to create good citizens of their communities.

I have been a member of Anahuak since I was 13, when I started playing soccer. I still play. I became a volunteer at Anahuak at 16. Two years ago I started working as an organizer. Anahuak and The City Project use soccer as an organizing tool to bring people together.

I organize Transit to Trails trips with Anahauk, The City Project, MRCA (Mountains Recreation and Conservation Association), and the National Park Service, so urban youth can enjoy what little green space Los Angeles has. I am interested in organizing support in our communities for a new national recreation area in the San Gabriel Mountains. That area is so close by, but almost nobody knows about it or uses it. I am a certified Covered California educator. I educate folks on their health care options under the Affordable Care Act -- even though I don't qualify for insurance coverage myself because of my unclear status in this country. I help others get dream status. I don't charge for what I know. I facilitate citizenship paths for people who qualify -- even though I don't qualify for citizenship. I register voters, even though I can't vote. I take part in trips to Sacramento to speak to elected officials on topics that affect the communities we serve. I travel to D.C. to organize for immigration reform.

What have you done regarding the Los Angeles River?

I have worked on all the L.A. River greening projects with Anahuak and The City Project. I was part of the group of kids lobbying for what became Los Angeles State Historic Park and Rio de Los Angeles State Park, back when Gray Davis was still in office. I stood next to the Governor when he announced the purchase of the land for the two parks in the picture above. I got out of school early to attend the grand opening of Rio de Los Angeles State Park because it was a big day for me. I have taken part in many meetings to revitalize the L.A. River. I was part of the youngster group that did a small presentation at the River Center back in 2006, when river revitalization planning was just starting. Presently we are working on getting artificial turf fields at the Rio park. The three soccer fields for the younger children are in such bad shape because no one cares for them. I have been involved in many river clean ups.

Transit to Trails Junior Ranger Graduation, 2013, with Dayana at the far right.
Transit to Trails Junior Ranger Graduation, 2013, with Dayana at the far right.

Can you tell us about your work on the Neighborhood Council?

I was elected to my Neighborhood Council at 19 as a youth rep. I listened to stakeholders at meetings and voted to approve projects or donations along with my fellow council members. As the co-secretary my responsibility was to review the minutes and other tasks.

Why is organizing important to you?

When I was thirteen I didn't know I was organizing for two state parks to be built, I just knew they took me to meetings and things got done because of it. Now that I am all grown up, I know that I fell in love with grassroots organizing at that age. I saw firsthand the power the masses have to implement change. All the organizing I do today is important to me because I help my community and that is really rewarding. The biggest reason though is because I feel it gives me a voice and purpose in a country where I technically don't count.

How has dreamer status affected your education?

Dreamer status has rekindled my desire to finish college and attain a degree, even if it kills me. A degree is the only selfish want I have that I simply refuse to give up on. I want to prove to myself that I am capable of getting a degree, but most importantly I'm hoping a degree will open more doors for me to continue doing what I love, which is helping, organizing, educating. I would like to get a degree in Environmental Science and Policy. My plan is to get this degree and continue to work on revitalizing the Los Angeles River. I've started looking at four-year colleges. I'm choosing private institutions because they can award more scholarships to folks like me.

Dreamer status has given me hope. It makes me think that perhaps this country is finally taking steps forward towards comprehensive immigration reform. I would like to have a path to citizenship, and I would like the right to vote. I am hopeful my efforts to gain my degree will not be in vain. I hope the laws will change to make it possible for hard working immigrants to finally count and live the life we deserve.

Dayana's High School Graduation 2005
Dayana's High School Graduation 2005

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