1. How old were you when you came to the United States? Tell us a little about when you first realized that you were undocumented and what that meant for you.
I am ethnically Indian, and I was born in Fiji. I came to the U.S. when I was two years old when my family fled Fiji because of a political coup. We got a tourist visa to enter the U.S. Before we left, we met a man who was charging people $10,000 for an opportunity to get a green card as soon as we entered the U.S. Upon our arrival in the U.S., we were presented with a green card. By the time we realized it was a hoax, we had overstayed our tourist visa and had also lost our savings. Based on the circumstances under which we left Fiji, we applied for political asylum. My parents fought our case for years, encountering many fraudulent attorneys and others who took their money and promised results, to no end. They were granted asylum in 2010, but their lawyer failed to include me, making me undocumented.
The fact that I was undocumented hit me in middle school when I was required to take the PSAT. I asked my parents for my Social Security number in order to register for the exam and learned that I did not have one. I remember feeling very nervous going back to school. How would I explain that I didn’t have a Social Security number? How would people react? The fear of people learning that I was undocumented haunted me throughout my adolescence. I was afraid of getting close to people for fear of what would happen once they learned I was undocumented, and whether that might create problems for my family. As a result, I felt very alone as a young adult.
2. What have been the biggest barriers for you in achieving your dreams because of your undocumented status? How has DACA changed that?
Being raised in America, I caught the “American Dream” virus. Everyone tells you as a young person that in America, you can do anything. We are taught to work hard and dream big. Throughout school, I felt no different than any of the students sitting next to me. I believed what I was told: if I worked hard, I could succeed in America. However, I soon realized that this was a myth. There were limits on what I could pursue because of my status. I felt just like all the students sitting next to me, but I wasn’t.
I turned to my community for strength and support, and was lucky to have a high school teacher who believed in me and mentored me. She helped me to identify opportunities and pushed me to pursue my dream of obtaining a college education. During my first year at California State University-Fullerton, I commuted two hours by public transportation to get to campus and the cost of higher education remained a barrier. Through the generosity teachers and donors, I was able to secure some funding for my first year, but I still had to scrape together tuition for the following year. I saved every penny while working night shifts, cutting my expenses to the bare minimum. Every year, I faced the struggle of pulling together money in order to pursue my education.
In 2010, I finally received my undergraduate degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting. In order to obtain a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license, I needed to work a certain number of hours at a CPA firm. Even after all my efforts obtain my degree, I couldn’t join a CPA firm because I didn’t have a Social Security number. Ultimately, I did not have opportunities open to me.
I wanted to turn the negative energy into something positive. As a result, I decided to join the DREAM movement. I started to tell my story and became a vocal advocate for immigration reform. I realized that I needed to develop certain communications skills that would help me better advocate for my community, so I decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Human Communication. I hope my degree will allow me to effectively highlight the plight of undocumented students around the country and to push for immigration reform. With my DACA status, I can now get entry-level positions and internships to build up my resume and advance in the field of diversity and inclusion.
3. What is your happiest or most vivid childhood memory?
Growing up, it was my four older siblings, my parents, and me. We were relatively poor, but every Sunday my parents would take time away from their jobs and worries, and we would go on a family picnic. We would spend time at a park, forget our struggles, and just be together. My mother always brought the most delicious watermelon slices, and to this day every time I eat a watermelon, I think of those sunny days in the park with my family.
4. Where do you see yourself in ten years? How would that change if you had status or citizenship?
In ten years, I want to have a career that involves building diversity within organizations. I would love to use my Master’s in Human Communication to support and increase diversity and inclusion by designing and leading workshops and trainings for advocates.
I think that it is important for people to remember that DACA is helpful because it provides temporary relief for undocumented youth, but it does have limitations. Having a green card or citizenship would open up more opportunities for me to have access to jobs that I want, which are beyond entry-level, and to advance my career.
5. What is one thing that no one knows about you or your most marked characteristic?
My most marked characteristic is my ability to smile and laugh through my darkest moments. I feel like I have been tested and challenged in every way possible. I refuse to apologize for who I am or for my life experiences. I refuse to let the lack of privilege wear down on me. I refuse to let politics and the government get between me and my happiness. I choose to be happy and move forward with love.
6. If you could ask one question of President Obama, what would it be?
I’ve been waiting for change since 2008. I remember running out of class to watch you win the presidency because I believed your administration would bring real change and relief to our communities and my family. Yet, your administration, thus far, has the highest deportation record. Why don’t you take real leadership on immigration reform?
7. What is your favorite quote?
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs
8. Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your experience in the United States?
Throughout my experiences, no matter how difficult things have been, I have learned to appreciate little things. Today, I used my Social Security number to get a bank account; I finally have an electricity bill under my own name. It is very liberating to no longer feel dependent on others for my basic needs. Through DACA, I have been given a glimpse of what it is like to live with some degree of freedom. I hope that in the future and others like me will have the opportunity to become citizens and to truly be free.