Bupendra (Bupen) Ram


Bupen profile

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.