Asian Americans Rally in Support of Undocumented Students

AsianWeek, News feature, Asianweek Staff Posted: Aug 20, 2008

undergroundA standing-room only crowd filled Remy’s Place on Temple Art Gallery on August 10 for a special book party in conjunction with the Smithsonian/University of Hawai‘i exhibition, “Singglalot: The Ties That Bind,” on the history of the Filipino immigration to the U.S. that in closes in October. The book, Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Students Speak Out, profiles eight UCLA students, half of whom are Asian American, who described the plight of undocumented college students brought to the U.S. as children and the struggle to complete their college degrees. These students are ineligible to legally work or obtain a driver’s license and are excluded from many other rights afforded to their classmates. They are considered “out-of-status” and disqualified from obtaining federal financial aid. They struggle to stay in school by taking jobs that pay them “under the table,” living with family far from campus and commuting long distances on public transportation and withdrawing when funds are low.

studentsThe Honorable Mike Eng (49th Assembly District) opened the program by commending Remy’s founder Joselyn Geaga-Rosenthal and UCLA Labor Center Director Kent Wong for co-sponsoring the event to break the Asian American community’s silence about undocumented students and family. He also applauded the bravery of the UCLA students who are lobbying the California and federal Dream Acts that would respectively provide government financial aid and a path to citizenship.

Four of those students, some recent graduates (Filipino, Vietnamese, and South Asian) told their personal stories to the rapt audience. Tam Tran spoke of her parents’ journey from Vietnam as boat people to Germany, where she and her brother were born. Her family moved to the U.S. but because her father lost his work permit, the government sought to deport her family. Because Germany does not grant citizenship at birth, Tam and her brother are state-less, neither citizens of the U.S., nor Germany nor Vietnam, a country she has never visited. She is in a permanent state of limbo, unable to legally claim any country as her own. Tam told the audience, “Forty percent of undocumented students at UC campuses are Asian. But you would never know it because of the stigma about something which is not our fault.”

Angelo Mathay’s mother brought him to the U.S. from the Philippines at age six, presumably for a vacation. He was surprised to learn that she didn’t intend to return in order to escape the tsismis (gossip) that resulted from Angelo’s out-of-wedlock birth. Years later, Angelo was unable to return to the Philippines even for his father’s funeral because the U.S. would not re-admitted him. He told the audience, “Filipinos believe tago ng tago (hide and hide) our status, but we have to come out of the shadows if we want to change immigration policy.”

Zeenat Bhamani, a Pakistani undergraduate, spoke of her family and the larger South Asian community’s feelings of shame about being undocumented. She said, “Especially in a post-9/11 world, we have to claim our full identities if we want equal treatment and an end to discrimination.”

Stephanie Solis did not learn she was undocumented until she was 18 when she announced to her parents that it was time to apply for a driver’s license, passport and college. They finally disclosed to her that, because of her status, she was not entitled to many of these rights. She admitted, “Yes, it is scary to stand at press conferences, or hearings, or speaking engagements and be identified as undocumented, but it would be much more scary if we didn’t speak out.”

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User Comments

Bill on Aug 20, 2008 at 16:18:48 said:

Asian Americans all know that this war on the undocumented is slowly leading up to a war on all immigrants. The major groups FAIR and Numbers USA all oppose legal immigration as well. We need to step up before it's too late.

Dan on Aug 20, 2008 at 16:09:21 said:

Great news, the community is finally stepping up. Wow, UCLA? Those kids must be smart.




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