DACA and its impact on undocumented students
Karina Villalvazo is a 10th Grade English Teacher and a Title I Coordinator at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. In this interview with Outreach Director Cooper Haskins, she discusses Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and its implications for her students.
Cooper Haskins (CH): How have your experiences as an immigrant student impacted your work as an educator?
Karina Villalvazo (KV): As I got older, I became much more aware of my Mexican-American identity and struggled with issues of fitting in. It’s this idea of not being “Mexican enough” or “American enough” and always needing to negotiate between both cultures. I keep that in mind when I teach students from similar backgrounds who have the same struggles;I try to incorporate those themes of identity and belonging into my curriculum. For example, right now we’re reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and discussing how the main character navigates his identity. Ultimately, finding oneself is about being resilient and pursuing your dreams, which is what I’m always encouraging my students to do.
CH: You’re very passionate about DACA and protecting our Dreamer students. What drives this passion?
KV: Our kids. When I look at our English Language Learners and English Language Development students, I see kids who have been in the U.S. for years and who are eager to learn and contribute to society. They don’t think of going back to their countries of origin as ‘going home’. They see themselves as American. DACA is a great program that allows them to get an education and, in turn, allows them to advocate for others like themselves.
CH: How would repealing DACA affect these students?
KV: I worry that repealing DACA would make my students give up and see no relevance in school because they’d begin thinking, “Eventually I’ll have to leave, so what’s the point in trying?” Some of my students are here alone. They attend school during the day, then work through the night to pay for the small apartments they rent. These students get home so late that they do not have time to complete their homework, but they still show up each day and try their hardest. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch. We have to do more to help them.
CH: How can teachers be advocates for their students outside of the classroom?
KV: Be involved in advocacy and stay informed. One of the biggest ways we advocate for our students at Roosevelt is by staying connected to our community partners that offer students services they might not be aware of. For example, the organization Promesa offers our students credit recovery for the courses they need in order to graduate college ready.
CH: How did you find out about Educators for Excellence?
KV: Araceli Morfin, who serves as the Bridge Coordinator and a counselor at Roosevelt High School, is a leader at E4E. She approached me saying, “You’re the kind of teacher who cares deeply about social justice, I promise you’ll like this group.” I attended an event with Araceli last year and have become increasingly more involved ever since.