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Dreaming of America

For many immigrants, the American Dream is what they aspire to obtain in the U.S. They believe that when you come to this country, you have to work hard, obtain an education and persevere to live your dreams. But there are many individuals who don’t actually make this choice for themselves, having been brought to this country as young children by their parents. Often, these children grow up in our neighborhoods, and go through our educational system, at times paying many times more than most Americans ever would to get a degree. Because they are not U.S. citizens, they are denied the opportunity to legally find a career upon graduation.

The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act has been debated for years now, but some have done more than talk. In Southern California, the Orange County DREAM Team (OCDT) was born out of a community’s need to help undocumented youth obtain access to higher education. Established in 2004, the OCDT began with a small but diverse group of high school and college students united under a common goal of passing the DREAM and Student Adjustment Acts. Since then, the OCDT has grown into a dedicated organization of about twenty-five members and has gained support from several community organizations such as Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC #147), and Los Amigos de Orange County. The mission of the OCDT “is to support and advocate for the rights of undocumented students of all nationalities by creating a sense of social consciousness of the issues that affect these students in the Orange County community, providing resources that will help these students accomplish their dreams of obtaining a higher education and by helping to cement the attainment and passage of legislations that will allow undocumented students to become inclusive contributing members of society. Educate, Advocate, Dream.”

On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama announced that certain DREAM Act–eligible undocumented youth would be given a type of temporary permission to stay in the U.S. called Deferred Action. This will be valid for two years and may be renewed at the end of that period. Individuals who receive Deferred Action may apply for and obtain employment authorization. In response, the OCDT started organizing public forums for the community to voice their questions and concerns while learning the application process.

The OCDT members speaking out below include Adrian González, Yesenia Capellino, Luminosa and María Pablo, Jacky Acosta, and Tony Ortuño. By sharing real life stories in the OC, these young people communicate how undocumented students work to advocate for education and the DREAM Act throughout Southern California. Collectively, they proclaim the status of “undocumented and unafraid” and thereby seek their own paths towards the American Dream. They are new college students, recent university graduates and Orange County community organizers seeking to give back to the nation and educate others about their plight.

LATINO asked them all the same questions: “How did you come to the U.S and how do you sustain yourself to obtain the American Dream?”



adrianAdrian Gonzalez

Age: 25
From: Guadalajara, Mexico
Years in the U.S.: 22


Adrian González does not remember his border crossing experience. He was only three years old when he came to the U.S. from Guadalajara, and he knows the story through his mother. The initial journey included his mother, brother, sister and a few uncles. The family split up into various groups to increase their chances of a safe passage. His group included his sister and one of his uncles. At the family’s first border crossing attempt, his mother and brother were detained by the U.S. Border Patrol. As soon as he crossed through the border, his uncle returned to Mexico to help his mother and brother cross once again. The second time, they made it without anyone being apprehended.

Adrian grew up in the same neighborhood for twenty years in Anaheim, California and went through the entire K-12 educational system. As a child, he never felt like he wasn’t part of his community or that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Adrian said his status was never really an issue but it became more apparent after high school. While attending Santa Ana College (SAC) in Santa Ana, he says he was reminded of his status when he was offered a financial aid application, which he had to refuse.

Adrian joined SAC’s on-campus organization, Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success, most popularly known as I.D.E.A.S. It was the first time he felt enough confidence to share his situation with people outside of his family and initial community in Anaheim. Through I.D.E.A.S. he learned about OCDT, based out of El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana. He says these advocacy groups assisted him in obtaining a private scholarship that allows him to afford tuition, rent and even food. And their influence, he says, motivated him to further share his life as an AB540 student. AB540 is a California law that allows eligible undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. Now, he says, he has the courage to state he is “undocumented and unafraid.”

Adrian credits his passion for photography to his personal experience with the DREAM Act movement and his family’s separation. In May 2008, Adrian’s parents were deported due to trusting a fraudulent immigration lawyer. He reveals that’s when he really felt what it meant to be undocumented in this country. As a protest against the injustice done to his parents, Adrian does advocacy work focusing on educating others about what they can and can’t do as undocumented students and openly shares his family’s story to personalize the effects of deportations and what can be done to move forward.

Adrian González is a commuter-cyclist, currently pursuing a B.A. in Deaf Studies while advocating for the DREAM Act. His career goal is to assist the immigrant youth within the deaf community. He encourages others to share their experience so that they no longer feel trapped in the shadows and empower them to be part of the greater society, even when others choose to not include them. His photos of the OCDT are included in this article.



adrianMaria Pablo

Age: 21
From: Oaxaca, Mexico
Years in the U.S.: 17






adrianLuminosa Pablo

Age: 19
From: Oaxaca, Mexico
Years in the U.S.: 17


Sisters María and Luminosa Pablo arrived in America from Oaxaca without their parents and only speaking Zapoteco (The Zapotec languages are a group of closely related indigenous Mesoamerican languages spoken by the Zapoteco people from Mexico’s southwestern-central highlands region). They say they were brought over by family friends to Irvine, California in 1995. Maria was almost four years old and Luminosa was barely two.

They both agree that it was difficult to learn English and Spanish simultaneously, mainly because they were unable to communicate with anyone outside of their family during their first years at school. Even now, they share that at times they confuse words, since all three languages are part of their daily lives. They’re a total of five siblings, being raised by their mother, since currently their father is not involved. María and Luminosa are the eldest. Their three younger siblings are native-born American citizens. They describe their household as being very close and interdependent.

Both sisters are finding their own way to pay for higher education. María says after her first year in college she had to take a year off to save money for the second year. She says that out of desperation she held a position at the Anaheim Indoor Swap Meet for one year where she got paid below minimum wage, worked ten-hour days and maybe received a fifteen-minute break during each shift. She says her school schedule depends on her income. This year, María hopes that with the recent changes towards the California DREAM Act and her participation with the OCDT, she can qualify for some scholarships and financial aid.

Luminosa says she started earning money her senior year in high school by babysitting and selling candy and homemade bracelets to her peers. After her first semester, she says she too resorted to taking a job at the indoor swap meet but only worked during the short winter break. She says she was lucky that OCDT told her about the DREAM Summer Program (, which provides undocumented students with the opportunity to participate in an internship that provides a stipend upon completion. She spent her summer as an intern in Santa Ana and it also included a weekend trip to Ohio. Luminosa says she currently relies on the funds she received to get her through a few more semesters, knowing she will have to be creative once again to obtain tuition for the years to come.

Both sisters shared their mutual respect and newly found strength that they credit to their bond as undocumented students. Maria says she is happy to see her younger sister grow into a strong person and for the first time she feels that her sister is now a resource of support for her as well. María Pablo is in pursuit of regaining her Zapoteco language. Her goal is to obtain a PhD in Psychology in order to be able to offer services to undocumented communities and incorporate her passion for dance as a form of therapy to diminish negative emotions---like sadness, frustration and anger---that often accompany the undocumented experience.

Luminosa explains, while shedding tears, that she is touched by her sister’s admiration and credits her recent independence and confidence to her sister’s unconditional support and the OCDT. She says her time spent during an unexpected flight layover in Chicago, while in route to Ohio, was a life lesson that provided her with the support she needed to believe in herself. She says that all the text messages, phone calls and reassurance she received from her sister, fellow undocumented students and allies made her feel comfortable to say she is “undocumented and not afraid anymore.” Luminosa is currently working towards a degree that includes education, business and criminal justice in hopes that she will be able to establish a daycare as an educational resource that will also offer a safe, affordable environment for children from underserved communities.

Both hermanas share more then their indigenous roots and devotion to one another. They agree that President Obama did the right thing in announcing Deferred Action, but firmly believe that it’s only the first step towards many more before they can live the American Dream.



adrianYesenia Capellino

Age: 21
From: La Paz, Bolivia
Years in the U.S.: 16


Yesenia Capellino thought she was going on a family vacation when she left La Paz, Bolivia at the age of five. She traveled to the U.S. with her mother and an eight year-old brother on a tourist visa. Once they arrived, she says, her mother extended their six-month visas. Jokingly, Yesenia says she lived in America legally for exactly one year. Eventually their visas expired and her mother decided to remain in America. She explained that although Bolivia is a poor, third world country, her family had a decent life there. Her mother gave her two reasons for leaving Bolivia. The first was to flee an alcoholic husband. But the second reason seemed more important: to offer a better education for her children, one that could give them the opportunity to live a better life.

Yesenia grew up attending schools in the Tustin Unified School District in Orange County, an area mostly populated with white students. She graduated from Foothill High School in Tustin. Yesenia says she was proud to tell her peers that she was from Bolivia because many Americans often do not know anything about her native country. Still, she never felt comfortable discussing her social status. She was raised by a single mother and grew up with little resources, alongside her brother who is three years older. She also expressed great appreciation for her uncle and his family who hosted them upon their arrival. Yesenia says she admires her mother’s determination and is eager to repay all that she has sacrificed. At times, when she is not at school, Yesenia still assists her mother in house cleaning jobs, “just so she doesn’t have to work as much.”

Upon turning down the opportunity to attend several four-year universities due to lack of funds, Yesenia arrived at SAC feeling too ashamed to tell her peers from Foothill that she was attending a community college. After meeting other highly driven, undocumented students, she joined I.D.E.A.S and they made her feel comfortable being on campus and part of their community. She said that everyone at SAC were very welcoming, including all the teachers who played an active role in her success as an AB540 student. Through I.D.E.A.S. she learned about OCDT, which she actively participates as a member at local protests and advocacy events.

Yesenia Capellino recently relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Labor and Workplace Studies at UCLA while advocating for the DREAM Act. She currently sustains her education through scholarships, private donations and some assistance from her mother. Her life goal is to obtain a career in which she can provide her mother with the same opportunity she gave her: a better life in the U.S.



adrianJacky Acosta

Age: 23
From: Guanajuato, Mexico
Years in the U.S.: 23


Growing up, Jacky Acosta was told by her father to tell people she was from Texas instead of Mexico because he was afraid she might be treated differently. In fourth grade, a classmate questioned her place of origin, and when Jacky said, “I’m from Texas,” the other student stated she was also from there and probed for more details. Eventually, the exchange of stories led Jacky to be caught in a lie. At that moment she wasn’t sure why she had to say Texas. She remembers feeling bullied when the questions arose and says that memory was her first experience of feeling confused about her status as an undocumented student. Technically, Jacky has never stepped foot in Mexico. She has been living in the U.S. for twenty-three years, since she was seven months old.

Jacky says she really felt the impact of her undocumented status her senior year in high school. When she asked about financial aid or how she could apply, teachers just ignored her questions, and she fell into a slump once she started looking into tuition. The disappointing experience led her to apply to SAC, which her dad paid out of pocket for the first year. Soon after, she says, through her involvement with I.D.E.A.S. and OCDT, she learned about scholarships and started applying to as many as she could, small and large amounts. Scholarships paid for the rest of her tuition at SAC and allowed her the opportunity to transfer to University of California, Irvine (UCI). Knowing UCI was going to be a bigger financial challenge, Jacky started her own business.

Plast*eco: Crafty Recycling (, started as an environmental project as a way to “self-care,” a way of replenishing herself to avoid getting too stressed out during midterms and finals. Jacky recycles plastic bags and crochets them into wallets, purses, large tote bags, jewelry, hair accessories and even door mats. Eventually friends and family brought her more and more plastic bags, and through this support, her business grew and funded a third of her undergraduate tuition. Jacky says Plast*eco not only helped her obtain her degree but it also helps the environment. Now, she says, she will split her profits between graduate school and undergraduate scholarships for undocumented students while developing her business into a non-profit that will provide environmental and art workshops for youth. Jacky Acosta graduated from UCI with a B.A. in Psychology and Social Behavior and is currently applying to graduate programs while continuing to push for the DREAM Act and helping other undocumented students obtain a path to higher education.



adrianTony Ortuño

Age: 22
From: Guerrero, Mexico
Years in the U.S.: 2o


In 1992, Tony Ortuño’s mother travelled from Guerrero to Tijuana for three days and two nights in a crowded van. Her motivation was to be reunited with her husband---who had been in the U.S. for a few years working on tobacco fields in Virginia---and providing a better life for her two children, 2 and 3 years old. Once they left Mexico, Tony’s dad relocated to Orange County to greet his family. Tony says he takes pride in retelling how his parents arrived to this country. It’s important to illustrate the process, the struggles and sacrifices his parents took to come to America, just to give him and his older sister hope and better opportunities.

Tony says they have lived in Anaheim for twenty-years, attending local schools from elementary through high school. He spent his life being reminded that he was undocumented. During high school he realized that he couldn’t work without a social security number and couldn’t get a driver’s license like his peers. Then his undocumented status was reaffirmed when it was time to think about paying for college. By then, he says he was familiar with AB540 but it was prior to the California DREAM Act and it was difficult to find the means to pay for tuition with limited access to scholarships and no federal aid. Tony says he always maintained a part-time job while in undergrad, sometimes two, and lived at home to be able to save money.

He credits his success in paying for tuition to OCDT and mentors who provided support and informed him about scholarship opportunities. It pushed him to become knowledgeable about quarterly payment plans and alternative opportunities to earn money. Tony says he served as a volunteer and mentor by guiding students through the transfer process and college applications. In return, he received additional funds in the source of small stipends and gift cards to be able to pay for daily needs and tuition balances when scholarship money fell short.

Tony Ortuño is an UndocuQueer who recently graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. His priority for the next two years is to educate the undocumented community about Deferred Action to help prevent them from being misled or taken advantage of by individuals with ulterior motives. In the future he hopes to apply for graduate school and looks forward to developing the right position as a teacher while continuing to build bridges among society’s diverse communities.