This story was co-published in partnership with The Oaklandside.
I don’t remember exactly from which city I was returning from, but I had spent the day working high up, on a roof. I was very tired and when I arrived home in Oakland, my wife asked if I knew what had happened. On the television, the news said that President Obama was going to provide a special permission [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA] to those who entered this country before 2007. My two children were eligible. After watching the news on tv, we started to wonder, ‘What should we do?’
I made the decision to leave the town I lived in, near Guanajuato, [Mexico], because one day someone put a weapon to my forehead. I wanted my family to live in a safer place. I came to the United States on Our Lady of Guadalupe Day [December 12th], 2002. My children and my wife arrived in Oakland in 2005. In Mexico, my children left their childhood, their friends, and came here to lock themselves up in our golden cage.
At the beginning, we lived in a room where only a mattress fit. If we wanted to go to the bathroom, we had to cross the house, which we shared with six other people. We brought food in and we would all eat together in the little room. We stayed there for a year. We struggled so much. I worked from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. My wife fell into depression because it was hard to adapt to a new country. Everything we experienced brought us together as a family. There’s a Mexican saying: Si crees que te hace un mal, estás equivocado. Te está haciendo un bien (If you believe something is hurting you, you’re wrong. It’s doing you good). If I stop by that room today, I would be very touched.
When DACA was announced, we had already moved into an apartment on 55th Street. It wasn’t so hard for my kids to adjust anymore. By that year, 2012, my daughter was already studying at Fremont High School and my son was at Greenleaf Elementary. We were moved [by the news], but we had to look for community help, lawyers who could guide us through the procedures. We didn’t have much money.
One day, I came home from work and asked my wife where my son was. My wife told me that he had received his DACA permit and that he had biked to Alameda to sign up for military service. My son wanted to be a soldier. It was his dream, and also mine.
I remember my son came home sad. He had been told he could not defend this country because he was not a [permanent] resident or a U.S. citizen. He said it didn’t matter because he would go to a university to study instead, and that he wouldn’t stop chasing his dreams.
My son applied to California State University, Chico. Then they called us because he was accepted and we had to go on a tour. He wanted to study criminology. As we walked, we got excited because it was such a big university and we said to my son, ‘You will be the first graduate in this family.’ Seeing my son in college felt like the culmination of years of hard work. It was like seeing our dreams come true.
But, near the end of the tour, they began telling us how much the school year was and the price of housing, and I thought “No, no, no.. how are you going to do it?’ We knew that even if he had DACA, my son couldn’t receive benefits for the school.
My bosses knew that my son wanted to go to school, but they laughed and asked me, “How are you going to pay for university if you don’t earn that much?” I told them, “If my son wants to fulfill his dreams, it will be so.”
I worked more than 40 hours. At work, several of my colleagues would drink sodas and water and then discard the cans and bottles. I secretly took them out of the trash cans and put them together in a bag. After work, I also went through other trash cans. I was making over $100 a month [recycling cans and bottles]. My daughter worked in a restaurant and also contributed financially.
How El Tímpano’s listening powered this story
In February 2023, El Tímpano shared information via text message about how to apply to the California Dream Act, which offers financial aid to cover college costs to undocumented students who do not qualify for federal aid. We also asked our more than 2,500 subscribers at that time what efforts they had made to pay for their children’s education. Pedro Ramírez was one of the 30 members of the community who responded to share his experience, and his pride in having managed to pay for his son’s college education.
We limited ourselves to buying clothes. If we didn’t need something, we didn’t buy it. It was a family effort. We gave that extra money to my son so that he could pay for his housing at the university.
I gave myself up to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos de Jalisco to help us, and despite the economic difficulties, we are proud that my son was able to graduate. One day before his graduation, I told my bosses that I would not be coming to work, and when they found out the reason, they were surprised. This country gives you second chances. Opportunities. I have my son’s diploma here hanging in the house.
My son wanted to be a policeman so he did a lot of research. He approached officers and asked how he could do it. He applied for the San Leandro Police Academy but it didn’t happen. Nothing, just because he was not born here.
My son was disappointed. He started looking for a job and ended up at a company that installs carpets in houses. It was bittersweet, because you see your son growing up, achieving his goals, but then you realize that other kids who he grew up with have other privileges. We can’t blame life for what happens to us. Each of us has a book that has been written.
But recently, we found out about this law [SB 960] that allows young people like my son to pursue their dreams. After everything, can my son become a police officer? He has always wanted to defend this country. I feel like we have finally received some good news. My son will have his reward. As we say in Mexico, Dios aprieta, pero nunca ahorca (God squeezes, but never chokes).