DACA students share their stories in “Testimonios”

(Left to right: Letycia Pereira, Palloma Jovita and David Germinari spoke in the Center for Inclusive Excellence about their experiences as DACA students. Photo by Cesareo Contreras)

Like many FSU students, senior Letycia Pereira hopes to go to graduate school one day.

And while Pereira, a chemistry major, said she has all the skills and academic support to get there, she is faced with adversities many of her peers will never truly understand.   

“Grad school is like a hundred thousand dollars. It’s a crazy amount of money,” she said. “So I was like, ‘I’m going to apply to a job to pay for grad school.’ And [I started] applying for jobs and I kid you not … I will be so qualified for a job, and the last sentence will be, ‘must be naturalized U.S. citizen or legally permanent resident,’ and it just crushes you,” she said.

Pereira is one of 31 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students attending FSU this spring.

Enacted by the Obama Administration in 2012, DACA serves as a 2-year deferrment period for undocumented childhood arrivals – those who have been in the United States since June 2007 and have graduated from a high school in the United States.

Alongside two other Brazilian-born DACA recipients, Pereira shared her story last Thursday night in The Center for Inclusive Excellence in the Brother 2 Brother (B2B) sponsored event, “Testimonios.”     

Hosted by senior Teofilio Barbalho, B2B president, and freshman Julio Lanzo, a member of B2B, this year’s “Testimonios” was a follow-up to an event Barbalho and sociology professor Patricia Sánchez-Connally hosted of the same name in the 2015 fall semester.

In the last “Testimonios” event, Barbalho invited four first-generation immigrants to share their stories “to show people a human side to what they portray in the media with immigration.” Barbalho said he wanted to continue to discuss the multifaceted topic of immigration.

“We are here today to give people that voice they don’t really have in the media – people whose lives are being affected but they don’t really have a say in it,” he said.

Lanzo said he wanted to get involved because immigration affects a large number of people of different races and nationalities.   

He added, “I’ve felt that as recent events have occurred, not many people are reluctant to speak their minds. I wanted to do this event so people could come here and have an opportunity to share and give their opinions.”

Included on the panel were Pereira, junior Palloma Jovita, and Middlesex Community College student David Germinari. Each spoke about coming to the United States as children and discussed the challenges that come with being a DACA recipient.

Pereira came to the United States at the age of 5, when she moved with her family from Brazil on a 10-year visa. 

Pereira’s visa expired when she was 15, and she didn’t receive DACA until after she graduated high school. Up until that point, she didn’t think college was in her future.

“It really hit me when it was the last few weeks of senior year and everyone wears the T-shirt of the college they got into, and I was so depressed because I couldn’t wear a T-shirt – like, it was the stupidest thing, but it was the hardest time for me,” she said. 

It wasn’t until the July after she graduated that Pereira found out that she was accepted to be a DACA recipient. 

“My mom brought me the letter,’ she said. “It was seven in the morning, and she opened the door to my room and she’s like jumping up and down and she’s like, ‘You can go to college! You can go to college!’ And I just bawled my eyes out,’” she said.   

She added, “I graduated high school with a 3.8. My dream was to go to college.”

Pereira applied to FSU in August and was accepted 20 days later. Ten days after that, she started attending classes. 

After she graduates, Pereira says she will look for a job that will take her despite her status.

“To know that the next step is such another hurdle – I just finished getting over this one,” she said. “You know, finally being able to reach the top of the mountain, and now you have another mountain to climb.” 

Like Pereira, Jovita came to the United States with her family from Brazil at the age of 5. She came on a tourist visa, she said.

Jovita said her tourist visa had expired years ago, and before recieving DACA she resided in the U.S. illegally.

“For a long time, I believed I didn’t deserve to go to school here,” she said. “I didn’t think I deserved to do something with my life for a very long time.”

Jovita applied for DACA the summer before she entered her senior year of high school.

When she found out she had been accepted to receive DACA, Jovitia said it felt like a dream.

“I couldn’t believe it. At that point it’s 16, 17 years of my life I had been an illegal immigrant, and here I was finally with some sort of status,” she said. “I was going to be able to drive like my friends. I was going to be able to go to school and have an opportunity. … I had to jump on the opportunity once it was given to me.”

Today, Jovita is a junior at FSU ,where she majors in sociology. After she graduates, Jovita said she might want to go to law school to help other undocumented people.

Germinari came to the United States with his parents from Brazil when he was 9 years old.

Germinari will be the first to admit that up until recently, school hadn’t really ever been his “thing.

“For me, it was always harder to do most things” in the classroom, he said. “While other kids were doing projects, I was stuck in another class trying to keep up with the process.”

Germinari said after he found out about DACA, he knew he had to apply, as being legally able to stay in the United States was not an opportunity he could pass up. 

“Being illegal is maybe one of the worst things,” he said.

Like Pereira and Jovita, Germinari never really saw college as an option until after he was approved for DACA.

In 2013, Germinari applied to community college.

While his first year was “bumpy,” Germinari said he got involved on campus and as a result wanted a better life for himself through school.

“That changed my life,” he said. “I started getting involved everywhere – student government, leadership programs, events and everything. Because of that student involvement, I want more in life. I want to follow my higher education.”

He added, “I feel like every immigrant has a story. The ones that are fighting to stay here really want to stay here. [They] want to have that American dream. We are trying to work with, not against.” 

Lanzo said the event served its objectives of “spreading awareness” and allowing “students under DACA to feel comfortable about speaking up.”

He added, “We witnessed that when a girl and boy from the crowd, both under DACA, spoke up about having the same experiences as the speakers. That right there was evidence that we achieved our purpose for this event.”

Barbalho said although not as many people attended this year’s event, it was more intimate than 2015’s.

He said, “Once everybody got settled in and everybody got comfortable, it was very personal. I really loved it.” 

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