Coming Out as Undocumented

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 Viridiana Hernandez,19, stands in front of the "Dream Army" tent as she and other activists campout Senator John McCain's office asking him to once again support the Dream Act. Photo Credit: Jacky Guerrero

Photo Caption: Viridiana Hernandez,19, stands in front of the "Dream Army" tent as she and other activists campout Senator John McCain's office asking him to once again support the Dream Act. Photo Credit: Jacky Guerrero

Coming out

Coming out was one of the hardest things Viridiana Hernandez, a 19-year-old student from Grand Canyon University, has had to do. It has been nearly a year since Hernandez was able to
openly say to her a college professor that she is undocumented.

“I am undocumented and unafraid,” Hernandez said proudly while camping out in front of Senator McCain’s office in Phoenix, AZ for the 11 day in a row, asking him to once again support the Dream Act.

She is amongst a dozen other activists who are calling themselves the “Dream Army” and who are advocating for both military and education reform to include a pathway to citizenship.

The existing parallels between the queer and the immigration reform movements has created a “coming out” experience for undocumented students across the nation, with many feeling scared of what the repercussions might be if they declare their immigration status.

“A lot of times, I wasn’t myself around my friends because I wasn’t being honest to them with who I was,” said Hernandez who was brought to the U.S. at the age of five by her mother who was escaping an abusive marriage.

Now Hernandez who currently holds a 4.0 in her Secondary Education major and who has to pay $20,000 in tuition every year has dedicated her life to being an activist and guiding mentor for other undocumented students.

“Being undocumented has been a gift to me because it has gotten me very involved,” Hernandez said. “I often wonder if I hadn’t been in this situation would I have been as involved?”

The obstacles never stop coming

Hernandez was 16 years old when she first felt the impact of her status while she was browsing for colleges she could attend. It was the one time when Hernandez truly considered quiting her dreams.

She was told by her high school counselor, who advised many undocumented students, not to attend college because it was a waste of their time since they wouldn’t be able to use their degree.

“I felt horrible,” Hernandez said. “At that moment I believed in what he said. He was my counselor so I believed that if he said I can’t than I probably can’t.”

But her mother provided the strength she needed to try. Even after she turned down a full-ride scholarship from a public university because it required that she have a residency status due to, Proposition 300 that makes it impossible for undocumented students to receive scholarships funded by state money, her chances of being able to afford college appeared dim.

Despite the obstacles, she kept a 4.4 GPA and graduated fifth in her high school class and enrolled into a private university that provided her with enough scholarship money that she only has had to pay out-of-pocket $4,000  for tuition.

Since graduating she has returned to her high school to file a complaint about the counselor but even after several attempts, nothing has changed.

Living in constant paranoia

Hernandez is the eldest of three but with SB 1070, which has had some of its most controversial portions placed on hold such as requiring officers to ask for immigration status while enforcing other laws, the animosity towards undocumented immigrants of the law still looms over her families lives.

If Hernandez’s mother stays out later than usual, she begins to worry that her mother might have been detained and deported especially if she has her siblings with her.

“My brothers and sisters are scared of the police,” said Hernandez who has witnessed her siblings panic at the sight of a police patrol car.

But for the “Dream Army” camped outside Sen. McCain’s office the police have proven to been supportive.

“It is a shame because it took a lot of trust for the police to gain trust in the community and now it has been ripped apart,” Hernandez said. “People are scared of calling the police for help.”

Strengthening their hope

This civil rights movement will never be forgotten, said Hernandez, who plans on fighting for immigrant rights even after the Dream Act is passed.

“It [the immigration movement] is tied to us, if we just stopped fighting after the Dream Act is passed than all I have done is worthless.”