I, too, sing of America – California Teachers Association

IN THE FAMOUS POEM, “I, Too”, Langston Hughes constructs a powerful and undeniable message: African Americans have long contributed to the rich fabric of the United States and will one day be recognized, included and celebrated as part of mainstream society. , end racism and oppression of black Americans.

Nearly 100 years after the poem was written, its message still rings true for many marginalized groups, from African Americans to Indigenous peoples to families who came to this country generations ago to newcomers from ‘today. But those who have lived in the shadows of society are gradually coming out of the “kitchen” to declare that they too are “singing America”.

Among them are 15,000 educators with Deferred Action Status for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — a federal policy that protects immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. DACA recipients receive temporary legal status that prohibits their deportation and allows them to work and obtain a driver’s license, among other life-changing provisions. DACA, however, does not provide a pathway to citizenship. Here, two CTA student members who are DACA recipients share their stories.

Vision versus reality:

Jerico “KG” Keeler-Garcellano

I was born in Saudi Arabia to Filipino parents. I come from an immigrant line, carrying the intergenerational stories of my family: goodbyes, resistance, packing, repackaging, fast food, paid in cash, pillows on hard floors, and education as social mobility.

I also internalized the relentless message from my parents that I “had to” go to college. I was responsible for my family’s legacy because they brought me to the United States, risking everything. This is called in Tagalog a utang na loob — a debt of the soul.

And so here I am. The first in my family to navigate the American education system. Since my family was not fluent in higher education discourse, most of this trip was on my own. It made me feel both connected and alone.

“I was responsible for my family’s legacy. This is what we call in Tagalog an utang na loob — a debt of the soul.

As a freshman at UC Santa Cruz, my family didn’t have enough money to last me through the year. I was able to secure a paid internship with the Student Diversity and Inclusion program, a space for undocumented students who were unable to access
work and federal financial aid.

Soon I realized that I was not alone. I had a community of people in similar situations. Together we learned how different populations are affected by the dominant systems of colonialism and capitalism. We learned about anti-Blackness, classism and cultural appropriation. I soon found myself leading seminars on meritocracy in K-12 education and white supremacy through assimilation.

Today, I am completing a master’s degree at UC Berkeley. This summer, I hope to be in my first class, teaching ethnic studies in middle school or high school. I want to offer my students – especially those who are marginalized – the opportunity to succeed by teaching a complete and accurate history, filled with stories that have challenged dominant systems.

It’s one of the things I love about America: BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), women and gay people can challenge the country’s norms and help our students redefine what it means to freedom.

A new dream:

Viridiana Castro Silva

The notion of the American dream is so flawed for me. People say if you just work hard enough, you’ll get there. My family and I did. Yet our status in this country has been under threat for more than two decades and we live in fear. The narrative of this dream ignores the barriers intentionally created to keep people oppressed and alienated from real growth and opportunity.

We can no longer live in fear. We need to be able to share our stories and continue to do the work we want to do. As an undergrad, I got involved in advocating and connecting with other undocumented students at community colleges and high schools. I worked
to debunk myths that permeate immigrant communities – such as the false belief that you have to be a US citizen or have a California green card to go to college.

“We can no longer live in fear. We need to be able to share our stories and continue to do the work we want to do.

I was able to bring my work to the union. I was the first openly undocumented president of the Student CTA, and I led advocacy trainings at the Student CTA and the CTA. I think they resonated with people – in the union you don’t have to be a citizen either because that’s irrelevant, and even using that to demystify what it means be a leader.

We need a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. It would be such a victory for all of us and solidify years of grassroots organizing. It would also show the value and power of working as a community as well as our influence in politics – whether or not we have the right to vote.

Call on Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students and educators.

About Catherine Wilson

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