Raquel Cetz | Samanta Helou Hernandez for "187"

Raquel Cetz: A Dreamer Reeling From Post-187 Immigration Policies

Raquel Cetz: Hi, my name is Raquel Cetz, and I currently have been involved with community organizations. I also recently graduated from Cal State Northridge. I got my degree in Political Science and Chicana/Chicano Studies. I am also a DACA recipient.

A little bit about myself. I was born in Yucatan, Mexico. I grew up in Los Angeles, specifically Koreatown. Me and my mother arrived to the United States around 1998. I have been here ever since with my mother.

Growing up, my parents have always been very transparent. They were always very transparent with me. Letting me know that I basically was not born in the United States, but that education was a tool that would eventually help me stabilize myself, and like the country, for example. I've always known that I've been undocumented. Thankfully through the DACA program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, I have had the privilege and the opportunity to be able to access the ability to work, the ability to be deferred from deportation. I also have been able to attend school through the California Dream Act, specifically here in California.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, was passed in 2012 as an executive order by former President Obama. Through my involvement within community organizations, specifically the organization that helped me through my process was the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which is CHIRLA. CHIRLA is located in Los Angeles, and specifically, this organization helped me learn more about my status, helped me empower myself in terms of accessing different resources, and accessing legal services to begin my process in applying to DACA.

The immigrant movement itself I believe that it holds a lot of wisdom, and a lot of like love and power in that sense of myself, along with like older generations have continuously decided to do the work in helping one another out in learning how to access different opportunities, and learning how to navigate the different political institutions, educational institutions themselves.

For myself, when I was in high school, and previous generations of formerly undocumented immigrant students, it's always been a struggle of trying to figure out how to access opportunities within the educational system. When I was in high school, we lacked counselors that actually knew how to help support like undocumented students. I took it upon myself with another former student himself. His name is Kevin.

We created a wise up club in our high school, and we essentially provided workshop for students who are undocumented to begin to figure out how they would navigate the educational system, how they would apply to attend a four-year university, or even a community college at that point. At the same time, me and Kevin became that resource for the students and even for educators in furthering their learning of how to help an undocumented student navigate the educational system.

The anti-immigrant rhetoric that is currently across the United States, it is a very intense, and sometimes very isolating process. As for myself, like I'm very privileged, and I've had the opportunity to attend and receive an education. Many times I think about the families, especially mine, where my mom or my dad didn't have the opportunity to finish even like elementary school or middle school.

They don't have the tool of speaking English in a country that is consistently telling their immigrants that in order to form a part of the nation, they need to know how to speak English. They need to know how to sing the pledge of allegiance, and how to, in a sense, like assimilate. Sometimes it could be very hard. I think many times this anti-immigrant rhetoric dehumanizes an undocumented immigrant person.

I think many times we think of an undocumented person as someone who's illegal, or someone who's labeled as an alien but most of the times, these people have families. Most of the times, these people are just as hardworking as anybody else. I think sometimes that's forgotten, and many times, I think it gets lost in translation that at the same time, the immigrant community won't be disempowered because of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Instead, organizations and community resources help re-empower these communities, these families, these children in learning more about what their rights are, and how they can basically rise up against something, or a system in that sense, that's trying to push them from not obtaining that type of humanity that they deserve overall.

When I went to a college fair with my mom, my mom is pretty small, and she speaks like indigenous tongue, and her second language is Spanish to an extent. For me, like learning when I was in 9th, 10th grade, that maybe college wasn't going to be a possibility for myself. I had gone to a college fair, and I was speaking to one of the recruiters, and some of the recruiters didn't know what an immigrant or undocumented student was.

In that particular case, the recruiter told me that people like myself don't belong to an extent at a higher ed, university, or we don't have the ability of like trying to figure out what our future looks past high school to an extent, because people like us just weren't meant to receive those resources.

I think if the Supreme Court do not decide that DACA is constitutional, it would devastate a lot of people's lives, a lot of families, a lot of students, a lot of workers. I think to a certain extent, it would bring some gloom and doom. As time is right now, there's two other generations of undocumented students that didn't have the ability to qualify for DACA. There's other workers that didn't qualify for DACA, and its qualifications to receive or access the ability to work legally in this country, which still continues that system of exploiting workers to an extent, especially immigrant workers.

Some students, or not even students, families, workers, that don't have the ability in different states to access education, or access a public healthcare benefits, or access the ability to work, it'll continue to make them feel like they still need to hide in their shadows.

I think that many times in the immigrant community, immigrants feel like they need to hide. I think under this administration since 2016, under the Trump administration, a lot of immigrant communities and their families have felt like they need to go under the radar. Even at times, self deport back to the country that they were fleeing due to violence, or due to any situation.

I think for myself, it would be a different instance or moment, because I feel like we would go back to the former undocumented generation that was here, where I would have to work under the table again, maybe be exploited for the work that I have to do. I would have to find different ways of paying for my education, and even then, I don't know if my education would be more of a priority, or it would be more of a priority for me to take care of not only myself, but my family.

I think that there's always that constant fear. You have DACA, so that basically means that the government has your information. They know where you live. They know what you do. They basically know your every single move to an extent. Even then, that would bring to me the fear of what's going to happen to me and the other 700,000 DACA recipients that are across the country. Are we going to be deported? Is immigration going to come to me and my family's home.

Living in California is a huge privilege. I feel like I'm very blessed to be in this state at the moment because a lot of activism has been going on around the immigrant movement to an extent like families, students, workers. This has been the epicenter where I feel like bills are constantly being put forward. I have had the ability to go to school through the California Dream Act. I have been able to receive DACA as a federal program, but we have like in-state tuition in California. We have healthcare for all in California.

Many immigrants who prior weren't able to receive healthcare, or access education, now in the State of California, they have had that ability. Undocumented folks have the ability to receive driver's licenses, which creates the ability for us to be mobile from one place to another.

It decreases that sense of having that fear of getting your car impounded just because you don't have an actual ID card that states who you are, and that you're actually able to drive, or live in the State of California.

Proposition 187 is connected. I believe it is connected to what is currently going on today. Again, I feel like a lot of these xenophobic and harsh policies have been around ever since. I feel like to an extent, California's political landscape, however, changed, because then from there on, you saw a lot of like the Latino population, and a lot of people of color uniting to an extent. You see how that moment in Proposition 187 has continuously helped a lot of movement to go on, and a lot of activism to continue.

Not only this activism continue, but at the same time, people who maybe weren't registered to vote, or weren't naturalized citizens, now more than ever, they're getting more involved within community organizations. They're getting more involved in learning about their rights, learning about propositions, learning about whatever is incorporated in a voter ballot. Because they know that these upcoming 2020 elections are basically do or die to an extent, or they're very, very important. They're very critical.

I think from Proposition 187, there was like the marches in 2006. There was the Sensenbrenner bill. Then recently, this year, because of DACA being taken to the Supreme Court, there were walkouts taking place, just like when Proposition 187 happened, and about 10,000 students walked out. We saw this time around 12 different high schools walked out. Whether it was consented by their principal or not, the 12 different high schools and high school students decided that it was important for them to walk out because of their teachers, their educators, their friends, their families.

They knew that everybody was going to be affected very intensely whenever the Supreme Court decided to rule on regarding DACA. Even though we know that there's not going to be any decision made until next year, early spring, late spring. Ultimately, many of these students knew the historical importance of being an ally, or forming a part of such a critical moment in time.

I think many of the opportunities that have come to us like individuals who come from immigrant backgrounds. I think it's always been about taking a risk. To an extent, it's just like learning how to re-empower ourselves, even when we're constantly being told that we're powerless.

I think that now, more than ever, at least for me personally, it's not our time to be afraid. Yes, being afraid to an extent. Fear, it's a lot of like fear that is constantly being put to us, or portrayed to us. We're living it. I think we also find power within one another, and we find power in standing united, and understanding that the future looks bright. It is because of future generations, current generations, and past generations that we continue to be resilient. We continue to speak out because many times if we were quiet, and we didn't demand for educational rights or healthcare rights or workers' rights, then we would just be going unheard. I think from 25 years ago to where we are today, it's very, very important to continue to teach one another that ultimately, we are here to work to an extent with different systems and trying to figure out how to move forward.

In terms of the immigration landscape, how do we provide maybe citizenship for all to an extent, what does that look like? Because I feel like when Proposition 187 was happening, there was always the debate, too, like how do you give citizenship rights to "undocumented people" or illegal people at that time. Now, moving forward with 25 years later, it's more of how do we find comprehensive immigration reform? How do we radicalize it to the extent of not only giving or putting like a band-aid on a bigger issue that has been here for so long. How do you find solutions? How do you find a middle ground? I think like now versus 25 years ago, it's more of like finding an immigration solution overall.

Because currently as we speak, we have refugee people running and fleeing from violence. We have children and families stuck in detention centers. There's been the privatization of people being in a detention center, and keeping them longer because it makes profit. I think like now, it just changes that whole narrative of how do you move forward from not dehumanizing someone, and how do you actually take steps in creating that change?

If the government is willing to listen, then they'll listen, but the people will always be here to rise up and speak, just as they did 25 years ago. Here we are today, still continuing like that fight of our human rights overall and our humanity.

- Written by: Pilar Marrero, Portrait by: Samanta Helou Hernandez

Find more firsthand accounts of the Prop 187 campaign here.

Raquel Cetz and her mother arrived in Los Angeles from Yucatán, México, four years after Proposition 187 passed. She was two years old. Growing up in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, Cetz knew from an early age that she was not born here and that she was undocumented.

“My parents were always very transparent with me, letting me know that I basically was not born in the United States, but that education was a tool that would eventually helped me stabilize myself in the country,” she says.

Cetz is a Dreamer — that generation of young people who were coming of age when, in 2012, then-President Barack Obama responded to the pressure of the immigrant-rights movement and finally agreed to offer temporary relief to young undocumented immigrants.

The program was called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and it protects around 700,000 youth from deportation, allowing them to work in this country without fear of deportation. 

But the fear facing this young community continued after Donald Trump was elected on an agenda that included getting rid of the program.

She credits DACA, which allowed her to work and continue her studies. Cetz recently graduated from Cal State University Northridge with degrees in Political Science and Chicana/Chicano Studies.

“I have had the privilege and opportunity to have the ability to work and because I live in California, to attend school thanks to the California Dream Act,” she says.

The California Dream Act allows students who live in California but are not legal residents or citizens to pay in-state tuition in colleges and universities.

Before the Dream Act, and like in many other states, undocumented youngsters that wanted a higher education had to pay out-of-state fees, which are extremely expensive and prohibitive for many of them, who hail from working-class immigrant families. 

But despite living in California and having certain “advantages” in policy regarding other states, Cetz and her peers still found it hard “to figure out access, how to access opportunities within the educational system.”

"When I was in high school, there were no counselors that actually knew how to help support undocumented students,” she says.

So Cetz and a former student formed a “wise-up” club in their high school to provide information and workshops for undocumented students to figure out how to navigate the educational system, how to apply to attend a community college or a four-year university, among others.

But she was in 9th grade when she attended a college fair with her mother, who is Indigenous and whose first language isn't Spanish. "I was speaking to one of the recruiters who didn't know what an immigrant or undocumented student was,” she recalls. “He actually told me that people like myself don't belong to higher ed.”

Many in her generation have parents who did not have the same opportunity to study — or even get a basic education. "I often think about the families that did not finish even elementary school or have been able to learn English in a country that consistently tells them that speaking the language is necessary to be part of the nation.”

Early on, she also found the help she needed through immigrants’ rights organizations. In particular, she was helped by people at CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, who guided her in filling out her DACA application, but also in learning more about her rights and how to “rise up” against anti-immigrant hate and injustices.

“These organizations empower communities and families,” she says.

At California State University, Northridge (CSUN), she worked as an assistant for the Dream Center to support and welcome undocumented students. CSUN has one of the largest immigrant student populations in the nation.

From being an undocumented student and a Dreamer, Cetz has become an activist who aspires to complete a law degree to help her community further, she adds.

When Prop 187 passed in 1994, she wasn't born yet, and her family was not in the United States, but she now believes that what happened in those years has continued in different forms throughout the nation, and it has continues today.

“Proposition 187 I believe is connected to what is currently going on today. Again, I feel like a lot of these kinds of xenophobic and harsh policies have been around ever since.”


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187: The Rise of the Latino Vote

Proposition 187 was a California ballot measure passed in 1994 that sought to deny public services to undocumented immigrants.  While the initiative was meant to keep the “immigrant threat” at bay, it mobilized non-immigrants and immigrants in Latino communities as well as their allies across the state.

  • 2020-11-03T10:30:00-08:00