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Dare to dream: Defying the DACA deadline

Dare to dream: Defying the DACA deadline

Senior English major Ruben Zamora recently wrote an essay entitled "How to Live in the Shadows," describing his difficulties as an undocumented citizen in America. Zamora is studying at UNT under the provisions of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Sara Carpenter

Dare to dream: Defying the DACA deadline
May 03
10:00 2018

Imagine living a life in which you are instructed to conceal your identity in of fear of being separated from the only life you have ever known.

A conversation as simple as where you were born could blow your cover — a cover which you learned to cling to, like a child would cling to its mother. You could never dream of being your true self.

This might read like the intro to a chilling dystopian novel, but it is the reality for millions of undocumented immigrants who reside in the United States today. Out of those millions, around 800,000 of them have dared to dream of the light.

“I am a Dreamer, not because I came to this country illegally as a young child, but because I am an American, and ‘America’ and ‘dreams’ go hand-in-hand,” wrote Ruben Zamora, recipient of the Outstanding Undergraduate Student in English Award, in his essay entitled “How to Live in the Shadows.”

These Dreamers, who have only ever known the United States as home, now put themselves at risk daily by venturing out of the shadows in search of an opportunity to stay.

Zamora was 7 years old when he was brought into the U.S. This was a decision he didn’t make — a situation he never asked for — that labeled him from a young age: “illegal immigrant,” in his own words.

Circumstances such as these fostered a surge in isolated immigrant youth — a youth that feigned their assimilation into American culture in their schools for survival — a youth that spoke Spanish in hushed tones behind closed doors and translated his parents’ fatigued accents into apologetic English — a youth that held their tongues in fear of slipping.

Such sentiments are found in a poem Zamora wrote, the last line of which is “above all, tell no one.”

When Zamora turned 16, he was informed his life could change drastically with the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). He now had the ability to change the chain of events he was bound to before.

Chains act as a metaphor for Zamora. On each of his wrists, he has a tattoo of chains. He drew the idea from the video game “BioShock.”

Within the video game, players believe they are in charge of their own narrative — they are led under the impression that each decision they make is their own. In actuality, they are following decisions that were laid out for their character previously.

The main character in the game possesses chains that represent not being in control of his own destiny. But, for Zamora, the chains serve as a reminder of the exact opposite.

“[The game is] about fate and not really having control over that fate, and I reject that notion,” Zamora said. “So [the tattoos] are just kind of a reminder that you are in control of your own destiny and you’re the one who’s writing your stories.”

In his essay, Zamora described the possibility of deportation to be a fear that plagued his life incessantly “constantly in the back of [his] mind,” he wrote, “pushing itself to the forefront of [his] thoughts at all times, dictating and guiding [his] every action.”

But everything changed one seemingly inconsequential day his sophomore year of high school. After lengthy visits with an immigration lawyer and “with a piece of paper and a few swift strokes of a pen,” he finally felt American, he wrote.

Now, Zamora has the freedom to pursue higher education at UNT, where he will be graduating from this May with a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in writing and rhetoric and a minor in Spanish.

Mathew M. Heard, one of Zamora’s professors, said Zamora “is an honest, reflective and artistically brilliant student,” whose skills as a writer “are well worth the high praise” in a letter.

Heard teaches Zamora in a course dedicated to examining the rhetoric of “strangers” and “alterity,” or, rather, the state of “otherness.”

This past fall, Heard assigned an essay that would function as a response to the class, in which Zamora wrote of his experiences as a Dreamer and how his life was shaped by a constant fear of being deported.

“Against the course topic, which asks students to write about rhetoric as a responsibility to ‘the other,’ Zamora turned the topic around and wrote about his own experiences being an ‘other’ in the shadows of American immigration policy,” Heard said in a letter.

Zamora’s essay, “How to Live in the Shadows,” was so powerful it moved Heard to tears.

“[It] truly changed [my] perspective,” Heard wrote. “One of the most daring and honest pieces of student writing [I have] ever read.”

In the essay, Zamora spoke of the many issues Dreamers face, from personal safety to the experiences of others.

Heard wrote that Zamora was able to “cut into the dynamics of survival and safety for him and other Dreamers.”

“We read a Judith Butler article where she talked about vulnerability and how when people come into the streets to march, they express that vulnerability because they’re saying, ‘Here we are, and here are our demands,’” Zamora said. “I took that same concept [of vulnerability] and applied it to what the Dreamers did. We told the government, ‘Here we are.’”

Zamora’s exemplary writing is not the only remarkable thing about him, however.

During the presentation of awards, Sigma Tau Delta Faculty Co-Advisor Jeffrey Doty introduced Zamora as an active member in Sigma Tau Delta who has worked on the North Texas Review and has been nominated for writing awards several times.

Doty remarked that, though Zamora planned on entering law school directly after the completion of his undergraduate studies, the unreliability of a definite future in the DACA program has “thrown Zamora’s plans into uncertainty” but hopes the oppotunity to continue his studies will remain.

When Zamora was younger, he allowed himself to be influenced by society’s social stigma against undocumented persons.

“I saw myself as ‘illegal,’” Zamora reflected in his essay. “Imagine living your life labeled ‘illegal.’”

The negative connotation of such a word followed him around until he found himself finally free to be more than the lack of official documentation — he is now a Dreamer.

Though the current administration attempts to repeal DACA, every Dreamer continues to hold up a light. No longer will they shrink into the shadows because their light is not only for themselves, but for their families and their futures as well.

If the DACA program is successfully rescinded, Zamora will have a deadline on his presence here in the United States — a running clock dictating when he is to leave all that he has ever known. Yet, every day that counts down to the closure of his DACA status, Zamora maintains hope.

Zamora found as long as there was hope inside of him, nobody could turn his dream into a nightmare. Through the power of words, he was able to come to terms with the fact that dreamers are defined by more than just their status and more than just the number of days they have left.

Zamora signs off with a thought-provoking observation: “I have since realized that people cannot be illegal, human beings cannot, by their very existence, for simply trying to improve their life – the very foundation of this country – break the law, yet here I was. Here we are, rather, as there are almost 790,000 of us, the so-called Dreamers. An interesting word choice, yet it evokes all that America stands for: a dream. A dream that a free country could exist, a dream where people of all walks of life and all colors and faiths and genders can co-exist and prosper.”

Zamora sturggles with the thought of possibly being rejected by a country he feels he has contributed so much to.

“I worked in construction for three years, I’ve built schools,” Zamora said. “I mean, who else could say that?”

However, this doesn’t stop him from setting the best example he can for his two younger brothers. He described the goal of an immigrant parent as a process of bettering their family’s lives and sees himself as a part of that process.

“It’s really about just helping the next generation try and be better [and] do better,” Zamora said.

Featured Image: English senior Ruben Zamora recently wrote an essay entitled “How to Live in the Shadows,” describing his difficulties as an undocumented citizen in America. Zamora is studying at UNT under the provisions of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Sara Carpenter

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Xaviera Hernandez

Xaviera Hernandez

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