As a second generation Vietnamese American who came to America as a baby, I was considered an “illegal alien” until I was 12 years old. All my older siblings had reached age 18 and were able to acquire citizenship through tests, and my younger brother had been born in the U.S. It was just me and my parents left in limbo without citizenship. As a young child, I remember not really understanding why becoming a citizen was so urgent. At the age of 12, I felt naively excited at the thought of changing my name and becoming more “American” in the citizenship process.
Coming to UCLA has definitely challenged and broadened my critical consciousness of the world and the communities surrounding me. After learning the stories of many AB540 students and their unjust struggles, I was baffled by how long this issue has been prolonged. It was then that I realized that it all boiled down to one question: Should education be a right or a privilege? Unlike many people who view the DREAM Act as an immigration reform bill, I view this issue as an education crisis, in which various students are denied the rights to the benefits of higher education. It is an education crisis when students have to resort to
“under the table” jobs after receiving their hard-earned degrees in higher education. It is a sad moment when a high school student sees her education as having little relevance to her own life because she knows that she cannot work the “system” to her advantage in the future. It is deeply troubling for me to see the rest of the student population going about their lives and enjoying their documentation privileges without any awareness or social responsibility for others who cannot drive, travel, or receive federal student aid. It sickens my stomach to see the current sentiment of Arizona’s SB1070 upheld, which legalizes racial profiling and fires English teachers who have accents. The education crisis becomes painfully ironic when we mandate two years of foreign language education for UC applications while, at the same time, hearing the echoes of “It’s America, speak English!”
In light of the recent deaths of undocumented student activists Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix, I ask students to con- sider the role of immigrants in achieving higher education. Both Tran and Felix were UCLA graduates attending Brown University and Columbia University, respectively. Despite the lack of financial aid available to them due to their statuses, they worked earnestly to fund their tuitions. They helped found an advocacy and support group for undocumented students, created media documentaries, and testified their stories to Congress, our campus and beyond to shed light on their circumstances. Their fight was a fight for educational access.
I strongly urge students – especially API students – to reflect on our privileges as students and to understand this issue through the lens of an education battle. No matter how you feel about immigration reform, it is still important to acknowledge that many students did not have a say in their undocumented status. I myself could have easily fallen into the AB540 student category and had not known it. So could you, or the people that you know. In these difficult times, assuming your social responsibility and educating yourself about the DREAM Act is crucial.
By Tuyen Bui