While I was in high school, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) was referred to as “the rejection school,” i.e. the school you go to if you were denied admission elsewhere. I was also told that it was a commuter school, and that in one way or another, commuting to and from CSUN took away from the college experience. But I was also told that CSUN is the hidden secret of Southern California, which among many other things, produces graduates ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century. Perhaps our motto (nationally recognized, but regionally focused) describes this best. A professor also told me that he transferred from UCLA to CSUN because it failed to provoke his thoughts. While I do not adhere to that statement, as I know many fine UCLA graduates, I do believe there is truth to be told about CSUN.
Pedagogy of the Undocumented
I know that many cannot even begin to fathom the idea of not attending college. But I did. In high school, I didn’t once think about actually attending college. In my senior year, while many of my friends explored various universities, I was throwing university letters and brochures in the trash. I was often asked, “What College are you going to,” as if attending college was mandatory. For the sake of ending the conversation and conforming to society’s standards, I responded, “CSUN.” Thinking I would fit right in, I was confronted with the idea of the “rejection school.” So much for trying to fit in!
You see, in high school I subconsciously struggled with identity, and my place in the world. As I mentioned in A Message From Professor Washington, I did not find out about my immigrant status when I initially sought to apply to college; nor did I find out when I initially sought employment. Rather, I found out at a very young age. While I suffered from external barriers such as immigration laws, barriers to entry in education, housing, and employment, I also suffered from internal barriers.
These barriers are beliefs that oppressed people have come to except—uncritically and unconsciously—as true. The stigma placed upon undocumented immigrants was ingrained in my mind and soul. I felt worthless and dispensable to say the least. Acknowledging this parasitic belief, I acquiesced to the participation of my own oppression.
But CSUN emancipated me from physical and mental constraints that were placed upon me as a young child. I discovered that this world is not a “static and closed order, a given reality which I have to accept and to which I must adjust to; rather it is a problem to be worked on and solved.” I recall Dr. Chavez saying that we must rewrite our history and produce in it our own heroes.
Actually, the History of the Chicano/a course I took with Dr. Chavez revolved around this simple, yet significant idea. This is what the Mexican-American community did in the 1960’s. By calling themselves Chicanos and Chicanas, they publicly acknowledged their Native American heritage (or Aztec), which was threatened to extinction by the Anglo-American mainstream ideology. This acknowledgement subsequently opened new avenues of exploration by which they could construct their identity. Perhaps UMass-Boston professor Macedo put it best; they were able to transform their lived experiences (as Mexican-Americans) into knowledge, and to use the already acquired knowledge, as a process to unveil new knowledge.
I took this lesson, along with Dr. Nabulsi’s lectures on constructivism to construct my own identity. As I mentioned in Unraveling and Politicizing the Undocumented Identity, Dreams to be Heard helped me develop my identity from an “illegal,” to a person without legal status, to an undocumented immigrant, to a DREAMer, and eventually, to an undocumented American. By doing so, I acknowledged that the anti-immigrant paradigm threatened who I was.
Thus, by restoring pride with renewed energy to defend my right to live and thrive in the only country that I know, manifested itself in the term undocumented American. By identifying myself as such, I acknowledged that although I was not conceived by her womb, i.e. the United States, I loved and cherished her as much as if was. Ultimately, I remade my idiosyncratic identity, which became the engine, which continues to run today, for collective action at CSUN via Dreams to be Heard.
The People I Met Were Just as Important as My Education
With the above in mind, I knew that I could not be in solidarity without entering the situation of those whom I was in solidarity with.Therefore, prior to attending CSUN, I emailed several organizations to inquire about their mission. No one but Dreams to be Heard responded. I vividly recall Ana Mirriam saying, “You will find a family here,” which I did.
Like Martin Luther King Jr. once said, I am not talking about the emotional bosh when I talk about family and love, I am talking about a strong, and demanding lovingly family. I characterize our relationship in this way because our struggle for greater rights not only threatens ourselves, but other undocumented immigrants who are still fearful of still greater repression. I cannot give a shout out each and every one of you, but suffice it to say that I learned as much from you all, as you learned from me, if you learned anything from me that is!
A semester later, I had the honor of representing Dreams to be Heard as the Internal Chair, or President. This position opened opportunities to interact with other student organizations, professors from a wide range of concentrations, and local community organizations.
I Never Thought I Would Also Go to Law School, but…
As I prepared to apply to CSUN, I was confronted with the task of declaring a major. I considered majoring in Art but decided against it for practical reasons. I also considered Chicana and Chicano Studies because of the extraordinary opportunity of studying my own culture at the largest Chicano and Chicana Studies department in the Country. But my obsession with immigrant rights and social justice easily took precedence. Ultimately, I chose Political Science because I figured it would provide me with the fundamentals I needed to understand, explain, and argue for or against state and federal immigration policies.
At this time, I was working with the Center for Women and Children to obtain U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency. After several interactions with my lawyer, she asked me, “Are you considering law school?” “No,” I responded. She immediately stopped what she was doing, looked straight at me and said, “think about it,” and proceeded to fill out paperwork. I thought about it. The more I did, the more viable it seemed. The more I asked about it, the more people I discovered had the same questions and concerns that I did. As it so happens, students have this belief that majoring in political science is imperative if one is to go to law school. While this belief is false, I was surrounded with constant talk about law school. Perhaps my most valuable resource was Dr. Bradberry, my professor and Pre-Law adviser.
As I described in Contract Law: A Legally Enforceable Promise, I also had the opportunity of participating in the Georgia State University College of Law Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholar program–a rigorous four week program designed to enhance writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills for aspiring law students. Complete with three law school courses taught by law professors, debate and moot court competitions, I was essentially a law student. I excelled, reinforcing my confidence in actualizing my dream of attending law school. But I thought, “if only I could ascend the mountain of the law school application process.”
After six months of preparing for the LSAT, several months of waiting, I received thirteen consecutive wait-list offers. But then the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth School of Law called, then Suffolk University Law School, and finally, the University of Tennessee College of Law. With enthusiasm, I announce that I will be attending the University of Tennessee College of Law later this year. You may be asking why Tennessee. But I say why not? There is another world to explore outside of California. Not to mention UT has an nationally recognized Immigration Clinic, along with an Immigration Assistance Project. Like the Matador, I will tackle my future academic endeavors with courage and wisdom and never settle for anything less than academic excellence.
So What Now?
Over the course of two years, CSUN forced me to dig deep and take inventory of myself. While in the process of doing so, it bestowed upon me a language to express myself fully; to understand tensions, contradictions, fears, doubts, hopes, and deferred dreams that are attached to the hectic and often uncertain life of an undocumented immigrant.
Some people may say that I am not longer undocumented. But I say that I cannot simply forget my childhood, and the hardships that I have endured. To make such an attempt would be to paint adjustment of immigration status as the solver of all problems. Unfortunately I doesn’t quite work that way.
During my first semester at CSUN, I was unable to foresee the outcome of my quest for adjustment of immigration status. However, despite my insecurities, I declared that I would be ready with a degree in my hand, and experience to back it up. As I emerge as a new person on May 20th, at the Social and Behavioral Science’s Commencement ceremony, I will be ready for the world of Immigration Law with a degree in my hand and experience to back it up.
Be it as it may, for me, CSUN is not “the rejection school.” Rather, CSUN was the first and only University to admit me.
All hail the matadors! For El Matador video by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs click here. Best part starts at 3:10!