Santa Barbara, California. June 16, 2011- Students from as far as Riverside and local community leaders gathered at the Santa Barbara Court House in support of the Light the Torch Across California campaign. The campaign is organized by the California Dream Network and its focus is to gather support to pass a piece of pending legislation known as the California Dream Act. Under the California Dream Act undocumented students in California would have the opportunity to compete for and receive state financial aid. The symbolic lighting of the torch is intended to portray the courageous journey undocumented youth have made for years in an effort to make their voices heard by the state and federal government.
Amongst these courageous youth were students from the University of California Santa Barbara who shared some of their testimonies on the struggles they face in pursuing a college degree. One of the most notable testimonies was one of a bright young man whose perseverance helped him obtain a full-time paid engineering internship at UCSB. However, when his professor found out about his legal status his internship was reduced to a limited part-time position with no pay. For years, the stigma associated with being undocumented has severely hindered the opportunities of thousands of students, but despite these obstacles they continue to valiantly fight for a better life. One of these brave fighters was a student who works a full time job during the academic year in order to pay for her tuition. She expressed frustration at the fact that her hard work is often not appreciated and challenged the misconceptions people have of undocumented workers. She noted that the hard work of thousands is taxed and helps pay for Cal Grants and other benefits that she, along with others, can’t receive. Despite all of this, she expressed hope that people would leave these false notions behind and stand in solidarity with their cause.
Those who heeded the call were local community leaders that acknowledged the hard work these students have made and called for the greater community to commit themselves to their worthy cause. Local organizations pledged to help support local AB540 students in their transition to higher education. A church leader shared his unique experience of being part of an international group of activists that traversed the Sonoran desert in the same manner that thousands of migrants do every year. The harsh conditions he had to endure solidified his commitment to helping the immigrant community. All of these experiences and testimonies were able to be broadcasted to a greater audience thanks to the media coverage of Telemundo.
In the evening the California Dream Torch was lit and everyone gathered lit a small candle in solidarity. The cold and the wind conspired to extinguish the flames, flames representing the dreams and aspirations of undocumented students. But these students shielded their flickering fires from the harsh winds much in the same way they have shielded their dreams from the harsh realities of their legal status. The California Dream Torch is currently in its way to Fresno.
Written by Mario Castillo