Alina stepped into the stage displaying a beautiful pattern of white flowers embroidered on her shiny sage-colored dress.  She waved as she walked into a cheering crowd.  Her mother was behind the crowd staring sentimentally from a distance.  She couldn’t step away from the kitchen area for too long.  The locale was decked out in decorations mixing Christmas and roman motifs.  The aroma was of tacos, nachos and the mystery smells of ingredients that make it all taste so delicious.  Twelve other teen girls stood behind Alina smiling.

If this was a quinceanera it would have rivaled any wedding.  But it wasn’t a quinceneara.  Alina is a few years older than fifteen.  She doesn’t own the dress she is wearing.  The food isn’t free and neither was the entrance.  The young women behind Alina are not the damas either.  They are wearing equally stunning quinceaneara dresses.  Alina is, however, the star of this show.  Her friends and family helped her organize a quinceanera dress runway show with one goal in mind—help her raise tuition money for her second year in college.

I was invited to speak at the event, offer some words of inspiration.  In reality, it was to translate into words the inspiration that students like Alina gives me.  And not just Alina, there has been a group that lately has given me much hope and inspiration.

Six years ago I began to feel the world around me shrink.  Every year laws passed that took something away from me: my scholarships, my security, my rights, my friends…Yet every year I feel much richer during the holiday season.  I too have much to be grateful for despite the obstacles I face as Dreamer.  I still have my family together.  I still have a mother whose feats of courage tower above anything I have ever done.

Our stay in the United States was to be temporary.  At only seven years old I was a very confused and angry kid.  Who are these people around me, what are they saying (I hadn’t learned English yet), and where in the world is my mom.  Apparently my mother went straight to work.  One of the few times I did see her at that time was when she told me I would be going to school.  I disliked the idea to say the least.  Going to school meant we were not going anywhere any time soon.  But that’s what my mom said.  You have to learn English.  You have to go to school.

Starting in 2007 going to school became much more difficult.  Proposition 300 passed in Arizona, forcing undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition (three times as much as in-state), although we and our parents have paid property and sales taxes for years.  Additionally, our merit-based public scholarships were taken away.  This year the Maricopa County Community College District Board (the majority of Dreamers in Arizona live in Maricopa County) voted to increase tuition for Dreamers by over 300% (they also upheld a policy that forces staff to report students to immigration if they apply for what they consider a “benefit”).  This is just one of the challenges that immigrant youth face.  The constant attacks on immigrant students are part of a larger attack on immigrant families that so far has culminated in the passage of SB1070.

This brings me back to the woman standing behind the crowd.  She’s a little over five feet tall, brown hair reaching falling just below her shoulders, with a smile as huge as her daughter’s dress, but brighter.  All night she has been selling food, greeting people, thanking them for coming.  A few months ago she joined a group of immigrant parents called Dream Guardians.  The group, composed of mostly immigrant Mothers, has among their goals to help immigrant youth (many of them their own sons and daughters) attain a higher education.

The goal for tonight: raise money for Alina’s tuition.  And it won’t be the last event of the sort.  There is one scheduled for next month, and the month after that.  Now honestly, the events will not generate a huge sum of money.  Perhaps it will be enough to pay for one semester worth of books; perhaps it will make a dent on a hefty tuition bill.  But that’s not the point.

Laws targeted at immigrant families have created a culture in Arizona the psychological and emotional effects of which have not completely surfaced.  We have, unfortunately, seen at least some of the consequences.  After the passage of SB1070 more and more Latino youth (some born here) are becoming homeless or living with friends.  Dreamers in some parts of the US find their future so dim that they lose hope or, worse, decide that being dead is better than being undocumented.  You may understand why then is it so inspiring to see parents lose their fear and work even harder to give their children a chance.

I have a feeling that although Dreamers thus far have been the face of our movement for immigrant and human rights, there are non-Dreamers out there fighting for their stories to be heard.  They will find the courage to speak up as I have seen the parents in Dream Guardians speak out.  They will come out as workers and parents.

One day I’ll find the time to write more about Dream Guardians.  For now, I didn’t want to let the holiday season pass without saying to them: Thank you!

Dream Guardians represents all of our parents; those that speak in front of crowds as well as those who stand behind the crowd.  They represent my Mother, who has always supported my education and now is part of Dream Guardians to help other mothers support the education of their children.

           This holiday season please join me in sending a thank you note to these amazing parents!

Dream Guardians

PO BOX 67791

Phoenix, AZ 85082

Click HERE to find out more about Dream Guardians.