Undocumented and unafraid

DOWNEY - Claudia Retamoza is a senior at Warren High who is starring in the production of "The Miracle Worker," running Jan. 17-19 and Jan. 24-26 at 7 p.m. at Warren High's Emerson Theatre. Claudia plays Helen Keller in the show but in real life she is an undocumented student. Some think that an undocumented immigrant is someone who has brown skin, brown eyes, and barely speaks English. She defies that stereotype.

She is Hispanic but is light skinned, has green eyes, and speaks perfect English. Claudia was brought to the U.S. from Sinaloa, Mexico when she was just 18 months old and since then has called this country her only home. She is one of the estimated 1.8 million undocumented youth in this country.

Growing up Claudia always planned on going to college. "I always knew I wanted to attend a university and go into either the acting field or study something that involved many languages," she said. "I considered linguistics, theatre, or business. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to college."

She is a dreamer like anyone else. Claudia is very active in school and a very good student. She is part of the Warren High Drama Department and has a 4.0 GPA. Even though she has always strived to do well in school, being an undocumented student made her lower her expectations.

She realized she would not be able to attend a 4-year university so her mindset switched to attending a community college. Because of that she did not find it necessary to take honors classes and finish her A-G course requirements. She thought "what is the point of wasting my time in taking honors classes or staying A-G? Being undocumented and paying for a 4-year university is going to be impossible without scholarship opportunities." Claudia has had a hard time finding scholarships she can qualify for and has seen her own siblings give up on school because of their legal status. She dropped her Chemistry class which made her ineligible to apply for a 4-year university.

Later on, Claudia found out about AB 540, the California DREAM Act, and the Federal DREAM Act. AB 540 is a state law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at the public colleges and universities. It does not provide financial aid and legal status. The California Dream Act is a state legislation that has not been passed yet. If passed, it will allow undocumented AB 540 students to apply for financial aid. The Federal DREAM Act that has yet to be passed and would permit undocumented youth conditional legal status and eventually provide them citizenship if they meet the criteria: they must have entered the U.S. before the age of 16, be under 35 years of age, lived in the U.S. for five years before the passage of the bill, graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED, and has a good "moral character."

There is change being made. Many undocumented students do not know that they have the chance to further their education. Now that Claudia knows about the opportunities that are going to be given, she wants others like her to know about them too. Claudia wants to be a voice for the rights of undocumented students, just like Helen Keller was the voice for the rights of the disenfranchised and impoverished. Acting is one of her favorite things to do and she is excited that the character of Helen Keller is her first big role. Claudia feels connected to her character.

"She was 'defective' to those who saw her. I have experienced these same feelings and emotions and have been looked at the same way," Claudia said. "But just like Helen found her voice I have just found mine as well. She (came out) from under the shadows and discovered all the infinite possibilities that lied ahead of her. The world completely opened up before her. Now the world has opened up to me and I have realized all the possibilities I have to achieve my goals and strive for a better future."

Claudia has become involved with an organization named "Dream Team LA". Mrs. Vasquez, a teacher at Warren High, introduced Claudia to Kevin Solis, a Downey resident who is part of Dream Team LA. Because of him she fully understood the power of student empowerment.

"He provided a lot of information about the organization to me, as well as to other students here at Warren High School," she said. "From these meetings we formed the Warren DREAMers support group." She is a founding member of Warren DREAMers, which assists undocumented students in transitioning to college and advocates for their rights and the rights of their parents. They meet every Wednesday after school in L211. It is a support group for all grades. Students can begin filling out paper work for deferred action at the age of 15.

Claudia plans on attending a community college in the fall and transfer to a UC to major in Linguistics and minor in Business. Her message to students that are undocumented is "Do not make the same mistake I did and even once think, 'What's the point?' The point is that we have the right to become successful. So many doors have opened up to us and the opportunity is there. Take it! Have faith and stand up for yourself. We are the manifestations of our parent's dreams. It is time to be heard and have a voice, because we matter and our voices do count."

Melissa Nunez is a senior at Warren High School and senior editor of the campus newspaper.

********** Published: January 17, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 40