I Always Dreamed of Being a Film Critic. DACA Helped Me Get There

Hundreds of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally and march to Trump Tower in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program also known as DACA on August 30, 2017 in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Remezcla is beyond disheartened to hear about this administration’s choice to end Barack Obama’s executive order known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The policy provided an opportunity for young undocumented immigrants to attend college, apply for jobs, and most importantly to come out of the shadows. We stand proudly with DACA recipients, be they our readers, writers, or part of the community at large.

Carlos Aguilar is a freelance film critic, Remezcla contributor, and DACA recipient. In anticipation of Jeff Sessions’ announcement regarding the fate of 800,00 young people who received work permits under DACA – Carlos posted the following statement on his Facebook page yesterday. It is a moving look into the monumental effect this policy had on his life. We republish it here with his permission. 

Sometimes when it comes to social justice issues it might be difficult for people to care for a cause when they don’t know anyone directly affected by it. It might become an abstraction, and though we can understand the difficulties and suffering of others, these issues might seem distant.

For a long time and because of fear, I’ve never discussed my immigration status openly.

Today, I want to ask for your help in fighting for my right to live and work in this country, as well as that of more than 800,000 people. I’m a DACA recipient. I’m a DREAMer. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program that president Obama implement in 2012 to give undocumented young people who came to this country as children and teens a chance to work legally and live without fear.

This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever posted here. I hope you won’t fault me for being unprofessional or too emotional. This is one of the heaviest crosses I’m forced to bear every day. I’m fearful to share this publicly, but I know that being silent is the worst thing I can do right now. I also apologize in advance, as I don’t presume to know your political views and maybe you are against DACA. Still, I’d like to tell you my story.

By Joe Frazier – Latinx Rally – Defend DACA!, CC BY 2.0, Link
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For a long time and because of fear, I’ve never discussed my immigration status openly. I’m afraid that my colleagues and friends will see me differently or that opportunities will fade way because of it. Thanks to DACA I’ve been able to make a career as a freelance writer, a screenplay reader, and a festival screener. I’ve been able to work legally, to travel within the US, and to live more of a normal life.

I’m fearful to share this publicly, but I know that being silent is the worst thing I can do right now.

DACA is not amnesty. It offers NO path to citizenship or to becoming a permanent resident. It also doesn’t allow me to travel abroad freely, and though it might seem frivolous, this has been very tough to wrap my head around. I’ve had to reject countless invitations to attend international festivals and events because of my status. I always find myself in the embarrassing and sad position of half explaining to people why I can’t attend or travel outside the US. Perhaps in another line of work this might not be imperative, but in the path I’ve chosen it’s a constant reminder that there are still limitations to my dreams.

Still, if it weren’t for DACA I would still be in the shadows and wouldn’t be able to do half the things I’m able to do now.

Let me tell you about my life before DACA. I came to the US when I was in my early teens. I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Mexico City to a poor family. We had very limited resources, there was never enough money for basic necessities, but there was alcoholism and domestic abuse. I was always a good student and I always loved movies – more than anything. And though my mom never told me that dreaming of working in film was unrealistic, I knew that it was unlikely for someone like me to reach that.

When I finished middle school, my parents knew that it would be very difficult for them to help me get any more education. Financially it wasn’t a possibility to support my brother and help me go to high school, much less any further. My aunt in Los Angeles offered to take me in, and at least put me through high school. Perhaps my mother also did it to take me out of the domestic abuse situation we lived in. I thank her as I know it was also very difficult for her.

CNS photo/Shawn Thew/EPA
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I moved to LA knowing that it would be years before I would get to see my mom or my younger brother again. I didn’t speak a word of English back then.

I worked 5 days a week after school and until 2 or 3 in the morning throughout high school. Even as irrational as it was at that point, I never gave up thinking that one day I could work in film.

I started high school soon after. I worked hard to learn English and within a year I went through all ESL levels and I was put into English-only classes. I went to a mostly Latino high school but even there people made fun of my accent and the fact that I was an immigrant. A couple years later, I started working at a fast food place, the only job anyone in my situation could get nearby. I worked there for seven years, right until the very day my DACA application got approved. I would probably still be there if it wasn’t for DACA. It’s an honest job, but not where my dreams are.

I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA, I was Salutatorian in a class of 1000 kids, and I had made short films that won awards at local festivals. I worked five days a week after school and until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning throughout high school. Even as irrational as it was at that point, I never gave up thinking that one day I could work in film.

I got accepted into Cal Arts and Chapman for their Film Production programs, but I couldn’t attend because I didn’t qualify for financial aid or loans. Still, I knew that the community college in Pasadena offered a little film program. East LA College was way closer, but I wanted to study film even if it was at a community college far away. I took the bus everyday to Pasadena from Cudahy in South LA, went to work in the fast food place till late at night, and then came home and did homework. I paid for every single class I ever took there. I’m not special in this regard. Most young people in my situation know similar struggles. I don’t know what force in me told me that what I was doing made any sense, but I kept on. See, for people in my situation there is no guarantee that you’ll ever get a job even if you study hard. We go to school and we persevere while living in uncertainty.

Pro-immigration activist Omar Martinez attends a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court April 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
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I promise you that DACA recipients don’t want a free ride. We’ve never asked for that, all we want is a chance to keep contributing to this country in every field, even film.

I’m not fearless. Throughout the years I’ve experienced lots of anxiety and terrible sadness wondering if anything I was doing was worth it. I didn’t see my brother for nearly ten years. By the time he was able to get a visa to visit me he was a grown up. That has been difficult to say the least. My grandmother, whom I adored, died when I was in my late teens and I couldn’t attend her funeral. Still, I kept telling myself this was my only chance for a better future.

DACA was approved the same month I graduated from Pasadena City College with an AA. At that point I was already writing a personal blog about movies and I had worked on some more short films. When it got approved, I got an internship at Strand Releasing. It was a dream. It was an unpaid internship, but one of the experiences to which I owe most of my successes. That led to me getting an internship at the Sundance Institute. A kid from a poor Mexican neighborhood without a college degree from a fancy school became an intern at Sundance. It was one of the most incredible days of my life. I wrote for many films sites and started going to festivals, doing interviews, and writing more and more.

One day Sydney Levine read one of my articles and invited me to write on her blog on Indiewire. Then came the life-changing shot of being part of the first class of Roger Ebert Fellows and go to Sundance [Film Festival]. And from that moment on I’ve worked and worked relentlessly, flawed in many ways, but always thankful.

Creative Commons “Immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles, California on May Day, 2006” by Jonathan McIntosh is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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Along the way there have been countless truly amazing people who have supported me and continue to believe in me. These people saw something in me beyond my background and my circumstances. These incredible, generous, loving, and talented people changed my life and to all of them I’m beyond thankful. I’m sure most of you are reading this. I owe you all so much.

In the five years since DACA was approved I’ve written for publications that I read and admired for years. I’ve seen my name on movie posters, on trailers, and magazines. I’ve attended numerous festivals, interviewed personal heroes, and done more than I ever would have thought was possible.

Maybe we are friends, we have been co-workers, I’ve covered your films, or you’ve read something I’ve written – whatever the case, I hope you consider that perhaps I deserve the chance to keep working and doing what I truly love in this country. As Trump’s announcement approaches, I have to keep hope that even if DACA ends, DREAMers won’t be abandoned.

Please help me fight for this chance. Help me fight to protect DACA by speaking out and calling your representatives. I promise you that DACA recipients don’t want a free ride. We’ve never asked for that, all we want is a chance to keep contributing to this country in every field, even film.