Carmen, a Dreamer from Venezuela, shares her story and dream to help undocumented youth.
Carmen Chan recently joined the MAF team as an Outreach Fellow through the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs’ DREAMSF Fellowship. The DREAMSF Fellowship is an opportunity for DACA-approved youth to serve San Francisco’s immigrant communities while gaining valuable professional experience and training. We’re excited to have Carmen work with us and want to share a little bit about her through an interview!
1.What inspired you to apply to the Dream SF Fellowship?
I was looking for something to do over the summer and then my academic adviser send me an email about the Dream SF Fellowship. I also wanted to do something for the undocumented community because I wanted to find out what kind of a leader I can be. I applied and I was accepted!
2. Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Venezuela. I just graduated from San Francisco State University double majoring in History and Spanish. I attended Everett Middle School and Galileo High School in San Francisco. I came to San Francisco when I was 12 years old with my parents. My parents stayed for one week and they decided to leave me and my sister in the care of my uncle. It was difficult for me, because I had to start over again. I wanted to stay in my country, because the majority of my family members and friends lived there.
I considered myself a person of two worlds because growing up the Chinese culture was in my surroundings and once I went to school, the Venezuelan culture was very prominent. At home, my parents spoke Chinese to me and the customs and religion were very important growing. For example, on Chinese New Year my mom would wake up early and start preparing food. My favorite thing was waking up and smelling my mom’s cooking, the red envelopes, and the fireworks. Also, the Venezuelan culture was very prominent because I spend a lot of time in my neighbors’ houses. I remembered eating Arepas, Cachapas, and Sancocho. At school, I played with kids from the barrio. I also learned a lot of Venezuelan street slang.
Venezuela is always in turmoil. My country is divided still even today. I remember when I was a kid I missed school a lot due to protests and confrontations between the Hugo Chavez party and the opposition. My parents thought that the best option was to come to America, study and improve my education. The political situation right now is worse than when I left. My parents do not even have toilet paper to use or chicken to eat. I feel really bad about how the country is right now.
3. What are some activities or projects you’ve been involved with that you are really proud of?
When I was an intern at Pact, Inc, I helped an Asian student with her financial aid. By doing that I found out that she was AB540 and she was so surprised because her parents did not tell her about her status. AB540 was an assembly bill that was passed in 2001, which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition fees. Many undocumented students refer themselves as AB540 to specify their status.
The student reminded me a lot of myself because my parents also didn’t tell me that I was undocumented. I found out about my status in high school, when my high school counselor told me that I did not qualify for FAFSA. My counselor did not know what to do with my situation because I was probably the first undocumented student she knew at that time.
The next day, the student came and told me that she didn’t want to attend to college because it was too expensive. I told her that there were many ways to get help like through scholarships. I kept encouraging her to apply for all the scholarships available and she did. When I found out that she got a four year scholarship to attend City College, I was so happy for her. I still keep in touch with her on Facebook.
4. Why were you interested in working at MAF as an Outreach Fellow?
Having the work permit has been an eye opening experience for me. I made mistakes and I learned some important big lessons. For example, filing taxes was so confusing and I made some mistakes in my W-4. I didn’t know why the IRS needed to take money out of my paycheck. Some of my undocumented friends started to talk to me about signing up for credit cards, because it was important to start building a credit score. I was lost and little confused. The reason I wanted to join MAF is because I want to provide that support and guidance for many undocumented youth about their finances.
5. What are you looking forward to doing during your fellowship?
I am looking forward to learning many skills, especially in outreach, because I believe outreach is a powerful tool that can influence and empower the community that we serve. Also, networking and building connections.
6. What are some of your goals in the next five years?
I hope in 5 years to have a job that I enjoy, especially working with youth or the low-income communities in the Bay Area. I hope in 5 years I have the possibility to bring my parents to live here with me. I haven’t see my mother for about 10 years and I really miss her.
7. What are your hopes for the Dreamer community and undocumented Americans?
I hope that soon we have immigration reform that will benefit everyone equally, a reform that will benefit not only the youth, but the hardworking parents. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has so many limitations, such as you have to have come to the US before age 16 and you have to be under 31 as of June 15, 2012, so it does not benefit every Dreamer. One of my closest friends could not apply for Deferred Action because she came here in July of 2007 but to qualify you must have been residing in the U.S since June 2007. Because of one month difference, she couldn’t apply for the Deferred Action.
We can’t give up now. There is still hope. It is never too late to fight for our dreams. We are not alone in this fight. Our struggles make us stronger and make us who we are.