Portrait of Carolina Perez

“I will always help my community to the best of my ability, therefore I wish to continue my education and obtain a graduate degree in social policy.”

BMC_013Photo by Steve Mann

I was two years old when my mother and I flew into Miami, Florida. My mother had just divorced my biological father back in Mexico and she needed time to cope. She had family in North Carolina so we decided to travel up north and stay in Hendersonville. I don’t remember much of when we came to the U.S., but I remember my mom telling me that coming into the U.S. for her was like coming into a whole new world.

We lived in a housing complex for several years. My mother then remarried, marrying a migrant farmer and causing us to move into migrant housing apartments for farm working families. My parents didn’t get much education. My stepfather never finished high school. I remember that as a child he had 2 jobs. He worked in a factory and as a janitor while my mother worked cleaning homes and attended school to learn English and obtain her GED. Even though we were an undocumented farm working family we worked hard enough to have a decent living. It amazes me to think that what my parents earned during that time to raise a family was always enough.

My mother has always valued education, therefore she dreamed of obtaining a degree. But the community college system didn’t offer opportunities for undocumented individuals during this time and her English wasn’t proficient enough to continue a higher education. We then started to travel to Florida for migrant farming purposes and moved about 3 or 4 times a year. Watching how hard my parents worked to get a living income motivated me to pursue a different lifestyle. My parents have always been supportive of my education. I remember my parents taking me to the thrift store every weekend to look for a computer that I liked and would best suit me. I was an interesting child because I didn’t own many toys, instead, I owned books and liked to write.

Most of the cousins in my family that were my age were born in the U.S. For the longest time I thought I was like them. It wasn’t until the age of 15 when I found out that I was different, and was denied the opportunity to get a job and obtain a driving permit. I was in complete utter dismay as I found out the reality. That was the moment I realized that it was going to take a more than average effort to just be normal. And I didn’t want to be normal. I had always been an overachiever; a competitive individual with high expectations for myself in what I can do, give, and achieve.

In 2008, North Carolina passed a legislation that prohibited undocumented individuals to attend universities and community college systems. I was in 10th grade during this time. I remember the newspaper coming out with an article and overhearing a lot of undocumented upper classmen in school talking and expressing concern about the legislation that had passed banning undocumented students from state college systems. This didn’t stop me from dreaming. I knew that I was going to go to college. I didn’t know how, but I knew that I would go.

I spoke to my parents about continuing my education and they supported the idea. I researched and found a university in Florida that was offering full scholarships to undocumented students and I fulfilled all of their requirements. But a year before I graduated, a huge market crash occurred in Florida. This affected the university causing it to cancel my scholarship and all of the other scholarships and help to undocumented students. I then had to look for other options. I had to apply to other universities and colleges that were near so I wouldn’t have to pay for unaffordable housing. All of the colleges that I had applied to accepted me and later sent me international student financial affidavits. But I couldn’t apply for financial aid. I didn’t have a social security number.

In 2010, legislation passed that allowed undocumented students to attend community college with certain conditions. This is when I decided to attend Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville, NC. Undocumented students had to pay out-of-state tuition and only register for classes on the first day of school. I remember getting the leftover classes, because the rest were full. This legislation was for undocumented students to not take the seats of those that were documented. As an undocumented student, I couldn’t apply for financial aid and my family didn’t have the money. I had to get a second job and work full time as I went to school full time.

After community college, I continued to pursue a bachelor’s degree and transferred to Brevard College. This college was the best option as it offered half tuition for local students. But obstacles continued to rise in my college journey. I had to buy a car to drive to school and I didn’t have a license. School became more expensive when I received my first bill for the semester of $9,000.

I was enrolled in the education program at Brevard to become a high school teacher. Before taking the teaching exam, I came to find out that I couldn’t take the test because I was undocumented. This meant that I could have a degree, but not be able to teach in a public school. I had to switch my major, but I couldn’t afford to stay any longer. I had to choose a degree that best fit with the classes that I had already taken, and the best option was English literature

In June 2012, Obama passed the executive order, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This temporary permit allowed undocumented students to obtain a social security number and a license. I applied and received the permit. And after graduating Brevard College, I applied to Eastern Tennessee State University to obtain a master’s degree. I was now a DACA student, but the university still denied my scholarship for the same reason. Tuition was still going to be out-of-state and I could not afford that so I ended up not going to graduate school.

The time away from school has helped me realize where I stand in American society. I realized that no matter where you go, your calling is going to follow you. I will always help my community to the best of my ability, therefore I wish to continue my education and obtain a graduate degree in social policy.

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center is presenting the performance of Silvana Cardell’s Supper, People on the Move, accompanied by Jennifer Baker’s exhibit Portraits of People on the Move, on October 27 and 28 at Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer’s 22 London Rd. Studio in Asheville, NC. New portraits — “People on the Move” in western North Carolina by photographer Steve Mann and UNC Asheville journalist Karen Lopez — have been added.

For more information: http://www.blackmountaincollege.org/supper-people-move/

 

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