Reflections: From Collier County to the State Capitol, Fighting for Tuition Equity

A day after the Florida legislature voted favorably on SB1400, a current measure that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates, a delegation of youth traveled to Tallahassee leaving at 2 AM in the morning to be ready to lobby at 9 AM.

These students fought against their fears and trepidations and were able to conquer being in the state Capitol for the first time! Here are their thoughts, in their own words, of what they saw, felt and think about this issue.

To read more press coverage, follow the links below:

 FGCU students to legislators: Give undocumented Florida residents in-state tuition rates : Naples Daily News

Vista Semanal 

NBC-2 

Accion Hispana

Pictured below: Nestor Prime, Faviola Vargas and Andy Martinez. They are undocumented.

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FAVIOLA VARGAS, 22, GRADUATE FROM GOLDEN GATE HIGH SCHOOL, HER DREAM IS TO BECOME A CRIMINAL INVESTIGATOR 

I can start by telling you that I had an amazing time from beginning to end. This trip to Tallahassee was an unforgettable experience. Meeting up with Fran [the Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Policy and Advocacy Coordinator] who helped a lot by explaining how politics work, made the process of lobbying the legislators a lot easier. I understood what it takes for a bill to become a law in our state. The best part was when we had to go and meet up thanking the representatives and senators who are in favor of tuition equity.  Although it was a little intimidating at first, we finished with a deep breath of satisfaction and accomplishment. CCNSP has made me a stronger, confident and positive individual. It has shown me that if you want something changed, you have to get out of your seat and fight for what you believe in. As the saying goes, “not everything is going to come at you in a silver platter.” I am very lucky to be part of this movement and meet so many people that support and believe in me. I feel confident that we are going make GREAT things happen. This trip help me realize that we are all united as one and we can fight for what we believe in. I also realized that we, as undocumented but Americans at heart, have experienced similar things that help us identify with each other. It makes it a lot easier to, not only speak for ourselves, but for all of our brothers and sisters who are still in the shadows and are afraid to fight for their rights.  It’s funny how I hated politics back when I was in high school; I was never interested. But now I see how political games directly impact my life and those around me.  I will continue fighting for this issue and understand that this is a long-term commitment that I must make for myself and those I care about.

NESTOR PRIME, 24, GRADUATE OF IMMOKALEE HIGH SCHOOL, DREAMS OF BECOMING A COMPUTER PROGRAMMER 

It was a Tuesday night filled with excitement as some CCNSP members and I drove up to the state Capitol. After eight hours on the road, we arrived. We were tired but ready to start the day. For some of us, it was our first time in the capital and didn’t know what to expect.
Everything is fast paced in the capital and everyone has somewhere to be. We were fortunate to have a great guide, Francesca Menes from the Florida Immigrant Coalition. She introduced us to some of her coworkers and was able to show us around the capitol. Although everyone is always on the run, we had the opportunity to meet and give thanks to members of the House and Senate who supported tuition equity for undocumented youth in Florida. That included our local Senator, Garrett Richter, who I was grateful to meet.
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In conclusion, it was a great first trip to the state capitol. I was able to see first hand the process of how a bill becomes a law and how amendments are voted on. I plan on going back to support and lobby for tuition equity. I conquered my fears in doing something new for the first time and I know that in the future, things will be even better! I am motivated to continue working on this issue because I believe that we can win.
ANDY MARTINEZ, 22, GRADUATE OF LELY HIGH SCHOOL, DREAMS OF BECOMING A NURSE 

 As an undocumented student, traveling is always exciting as going places isn’t easy when you have no way of showing who you are and that you’ve always have been a resident of this country. My most recent trip was a very important one because it wasn’t a vacation. No, our trip to Tallahassee took us not only far from home but well past our comfort zone. If I had to summarize it, I would say it was a field trip. Having no real world experience on how our legislative system functions on a daily basis and how to behave in said environment, the experience as a whole was exciting and very fast paced. Meeting and speaking with new people every few minutes was a daunting task. Our biggest accomplishment, however, had to have been the way the experience left me feeling: empowered! I became involved only because a very good friend of mine recommended that I contact CCNSP and this was my step out of the shadows. I have to admit that it’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made recently. Meeting new people is sometimes very difficult, yet when you meet people who share something important to you, the process  makes you feel like you’ve known them all along. Very few times have I ever felt so at home with people I just met. Everyone who was with us on this trip wanted to be here and was willing to fight for what we stand. Granted we got off to a rocky start because it was a new environment for all of us [meeting senators and representatives is not easy at first!], we learned and we didn’t let our uneasiness bring us down. Although I was the newest of the bunch, betweenNestor Faviola and myself, we did our best to work as a team and get our message across. By the second day, our confidence had grown and we could manage ourselves a bit more easily but not quite as well as our wonderful tour guide Fran! More than show us around an otherwise hectic maze she believed in us as did others in the state capitol! This trip brought me close to the people I needed to be with! Anything is possible and although I spent too much time not doing anything about my situation, I know now that my journey is far from over and there is plenty to be accomplished. My biggest downfall was being misinformed. That there was nothing I could do other than wait and hope that someone else would fix my problems but that simply isn’t the case. There is always something we can do and if you want something done, then you have to do it yourself! CCNSP may bring us together under one unfortunate circumstance but it will keep us together for another more important reason and that’s our desire to be successful. Having been together for only a few days, I felt a very strong bond between all of us and its one which I hope grows stronger. I am definitely looking forward to being part of CCNSP so that all students are treated alike regardless of where we come from!

High School Students Supporting Tuition Equity in Florida

As our volunteers continue their visits to high schools in Collier County, they continue to find that support for tuition equity for all students in Florida is overwhelming. Earlier this week, our state House of Representatives passed HB 851, (In-State Tuition for All Florida graduates, regardless of immigration status)  out of its last committee unanimously. While we still have to wait until it reaches the house floor, the Collier County Neighborhood Stories Project and several other organizations in the state have been mobilizing and collecting signatures for the state-wide petition that was created in favor of tuition equity for undocumented students.

We need your help! Please, consider adding your name to the already hundreds of names supporting these measures. You can submit your signature electronically HERE and forward it to friends and family. Let’s show our legislators that this is something that we not only want, but also need! Once you’ve done that, show your support visually by submitting an image of yourself holding a sign similar to our high school students below! Email your image to rommy@collierstoriesmatter.org  and we will make sure to showcase you on our Facebook and blog!

Lely High School Students Showing Support

Lely High School Students Showing Support

Gulf Coast High School Students Showing Support

Gulf Coast High School Students Showing Support

Educators and Volunteers Showing Support

Educators and Volunteers Showing Support

Resources for Undocumented Students in Florida

Revised February 2014

We will be revising this list often; We hope you find this helpful as an educator, a student or a parent.

If you have questions or need other resources, please email us at info@collierstoriesmatter.org

NATIONAL RESOURCES AND SCHOLARSHIPS

http://thedream.us/–Newly released national scholarship fund just for dreamers. Read more here 

http://www.icirr.org/sites/default/files/IL%20Dream%20Act%20Counselor%20GuideFINAL.pdf

http://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/2012-2013_MALDEF_Scholarship_List.pdf

http://www.e4fc.org/images/E4FC_Scholarships.pdf

http://blog.collierstoriesmatter.org/2013/07/22/the-dreamer-manual-a-guide-for-surviving-the-swamp-free-download/

http://www.dreamactivist.org/faq/education/scholarships/

http://www.goldendoorscholars.org

http://www.washington.edu/dreamproject/students/finances/scholarships-for-undocumented-students/

 STATE SCHOLARSHIPS

http://www.chispasuf.org– CHISPAS, an organization at the University of Florida, awards 2 $500 scholarships each year.

http://www.youngamericandreamers.com/Scholarships.html The Young American Dreamers awards $1000 scholarship each year.

DEFERRED ACTION

Find out when to renew your DACA www.dacarenewal.org 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5RJK9R4loIc

http://unitedwedream.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Guide-4-Teachers-DACA-edited-August-2013.pdf

Art for Dignity and Justice

I had the great privilege to create a piece on behalf of the Collier County Neighborhood Stories Project for the October 5th National Day of Action March for Dignity and Justice! The piece is currently featured on Culture Strike and Not1MoreDeportation. We, as CCNSP, are very humbled to be able be part of such a pivotal moment for our communities and we will continue demanding dignity and justice for as long as it takes! We hope to see you all out on October 5th, too!

Feel free to share the graphic widely through your social networks! Please, credit Rommy Torrico and link back to collierstoriesmatter.org or blog.collierstoriesmatter.org. We hope to get prints soon so if you’re interested, feel free to email us with your name and the quantity so that we have an idea of how many we will need to order. Send all inquires to rommy@collierstoriesmatter.org

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Also featured on Not1MoreDeportation is our Paletero piece! We will have 5×8 postcards available on donation at our trainings, events and online. Keep a look out!

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Y Volver

62468_4548416756365_1751348120_nMy name is Rommy Torrico and I am the proud undocumented daughter of two amazing immigrants.

We came to this country on July 16, 1994 with dreams; with a vision of what we would do and what our lives could be like. I remember the first time I ever stepped foot here was at the Miami International Airport. A surge or excitement pulsed through me but mostly I was sleepy because we arrived late at night. However, that didn’t take away from the fact that this was the land of dreams. I remember sitting on my father’s lap, my head cradled in the nook of his neck as we waited for someone to come pick us up. At some point before nodding off, I looked down to see two huge suitcases. They were green, looked brand new and carried a treasure inside. Everything from our past life was in there. As far as I knew at my ripe 5 years, my whole world was in there. What I didn’t know was that my world was about to get bigger.

We’ve carried on these past 19 years still in search of the dreams we came to find. We realized that things here were very different than we had expected. Being undocumented created a world full of limitations and uncertainty that we hadn’t prepared for. Yet, we’ve made it through. Struggle after struggle, we’ve had the privilege and good fortune to stay afloat. And here we are, 19 years later… my father is now a legal permanent resident, my mother is in the process of adjusting her status, my sister is a naturalized citizen and I have temporary relief through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

It’s been quite a journey that life has taken us on. My parents have been put to the test time after time and have had to make immense sacrifices along the way. One of the hardest sacrifices and one of things I believe my father most regrets most was not being able to see his mother before she passed because his status wouldn’t allow him to leave and return. After that, he promised himself that he would visit as soon as he got the chance.

And that opportunity came on September 12, 2013. My father took his first trip back to Chile to visit a family that hadn’t seen him in almost 20 years and to visit his mother’s resting place.

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When my mother, my sister and I went to drop him off at the airport, the same airport we had arrived at almost 20 years ago, all the memories of our arrival came flooding back. Things at the airport looked different, smelled different but it all felt the same. That same rush of excitement rushed through us and most importantly, we were all there together as we had been back in 1994. As my dad went through his last checkpoint, I noticed for the first time the suitcases he was pulling along were the same ones I remembered during my first time in that same airport. They were green as ever, looking brand new but this time they were holding a new treasure inside; a testament to our strength as a family. Our life was changing once again and now we’re ready for anything. We’ve come full circle.

In an attempt to honor my father’s sacrifice and those fathers like mine, whose only desires are to protect and support their families, I have created a short film of the 24 hours leading up to his big trip to Chile.

I humbly submit this request to you to please watch this video, which demonstrates a small vignette of our lives and that of my parents. We acknowledge our privilege in this new world of mixed statuses and “documentation”; and this is why I want to continue fighting: because our reality shouldn’t revolve around pieces of paper.

We are human. 

The competition will allow our local work to continue as I will donate part of the proceeds to CCNSP and the rest to my parents.

Please share our video and share the stories-the real stories-of what it means to be human without papers.