Pursuing a master’s degree, while working full-time as a Dreamer, is no easy feat. Each morning, I wake up fearful, knowing that today may be the last day of my life as I know it. If the Trump administration wins, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is terminated, I won’t be able to legally work, drive, or use the degree that I’m working tirelessly to obtain.
I try not to let it affect me as much, since I know the best thing I can do is live life without a constant, dark cloud looming over my head. However, I know that losing DACA is not a just “dark cloud” for me; it would completely change the course of my life, as well as my family’s future. Still, I take heart and try my best to face all the challenges thrown my way.
Since I’m not able to afford the tuition for the full-time track of my master’s in Mechanical Engineering program, I only attend two classes on Wednesday and Thursday nights to obtain my degree. Outside of school, I spend my days working full time at a local call center. The workload might seem heavy, but it has become my way of life. Even during my undergraduate years, I worked part-time for 25-30 hours each semester and went to school full-time. Thankfully, I had TheDream.US scholarship to help with the fees, but I still had to work. In other words, when I wasn’t working, I was at school, and when I wasn’t at school, I was working – either on the piles of homework or at my part-time job.
When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Engineering, I was hoping to land a job in the Biomechanics and/or the Biomedical Engineering field, but instead I put aside my wants for my family’s needs. They rely heavily on me for simple tasks that are a part of everyday life, including driving – which is almost impossible for undocumented individuals. I also am one of the main sources of income for my family. My mom and I split the home bills when we can. She is undocumented, which seriously diminishes her job opportunities. Many of her former employers took advantage of her status. When she’s unemployed, I am solely responsible for the family’s finances, but she made the ultimate sacrifice and brought me here for a better life. She’s always in my corner, and I will always be there for her and my entire family, without hesitation.
With my part-time work schedule and school work, I’m unable to take on an internship or extracurricular research – which are both crucial to finding a job in the Engineering field. However, I’m not discouraged. The opportunities my master’s degree will open up drive me to move forward. I dream of being an assistant professor, so I can teach and mentor students like myself. Along the way to my dream, DACA provides the legal and emotional security I need to help me work towards my goals.
People usually make five or ten year plans. Unfortunately, with the instability and uncertainty of DACA haunting my future, I try not to plan too far ahead. My DACA is only valid for a two-year period, and since the program is in limbo, I have no idea what will happen when those two years are up. What I do know is that I will continue fighting for my future, and I will continue my academic journey for as long as I’m permitted. I know that, even if I do lose status, my degree will put me miles ahead of many. I will keep on making my family proud, and I will show them each and every single day that their sacrifices are not in vain.
This post is part of the series UndocuGrads: Navigating Graduate School as an Undocumented Student where undocumented graduate school students and alumni share tips and knowledge about navigating graduate school. Many thanks to UndocuScholars for making this series possible. As an extension of the UndocuScholars project launched in 2014 at UCLA, the ongoing efforts of UndocuScholars are to engage institutional agents, college and university students, scholars, and community advocacy partners to create and further build on sustainable and effective best practices for undocumented students in higher education.
And many thanks to Elspeth Michaels for her design of the image for the series. To see more of her work, check out her website here.
Emelin is currently a Mechanical Engineering DACAmented graduate student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. In the future she plans to work in the field of Biomechanics and/or Biomedical Engineering as well as possibly looking into being a professor.
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