Living A Dream

This dream is my dream. This dream is your dream.


My name is Daniel Hernandez. I’m 21 years old, and I was born in Mexico City, Mexico. I’m currently protected under DACA.

I’m what the media calls a “DREAMer” and what others call a “leech of the system”.

I call myself one word. Human.

I’m someone that is usually reserved about certain details of their personal life, but I think that right now more than ever, it’s important share our stories — but more importantly, share our humanity. There’s a face behind every statistic; behind every headline.

This is mine.

The Unknown

I came to this country when I was 9 years old. I don’t remember too many of the details of how I got here, but I know why I came to this country. Like with many families in Mexico, money is a privilege, not commodity.

My father worked making mattresses in a factory, while my mom took care of my sister and I. I was around seven or eight when my parents realized that we were stuck in a financial limbo; the money that came in was just barely enough to feed us. As such, my dad decided to head out for this country: the land of opportunity and dreams. He figured that he could earn more money in the States and send some back to help us out.

While that worked for a while, it was difficult. We are a family and separation was never easy. To this day, the memory of my father leaving is one that is still engraved in my brain.

My dad spent one year here before calling for my mom, sister, and me. I remember being confused as to why we were leaving our life behind, but they both assured me that it was for the best.

I didn’t know what they meant. I was having a hard time adjusting to this new environment. Different school, different language, different people, different everything. The money my dad made was still barely enough to get us by. Somehow, my parent’s spirits never seemed to wither. Even if we had a fraction of the American Dream, it was bright enough to shine a beacon of a better life.

Dressed in Potential

It took a really long time to really understand what my parents meant. It wasn’t easy. But ultimately, it was for the best. While these streets weren’t paved with gold, they were paved with opportunities and potential.

They were right. After all, it was in Chicago where I was able to discover parts of my identity: my passion for music, my love of software engineering, and my drive for social work.

Still, even with all of these new opportunities, I knew that there was limit to them. They usually tell kids to dream big, “sky’s the limit”. Not for kids like me. The limit was hit as soon as anybody asked you for a social security number.

This wasn’t much of a problem for me until I got to high school. I wanted a job but was told I couldn’t work without a social security number. I wanted to go to college, but how was I gonna pay for it? A good amount of scholarships require social security. And financial aid? Forget about it, you don’t qualify for it.

You get used to hearing about all the things you can’t do.

The closer I got to graduation, the more anxious I would get. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But in the summer of 2012, the tides started shifting.

Open Doors

I remember going to downtown Chicago with my mom in 2012. She had told me about some sort of informational rally about immigration. At the time, there had been some talk about a new legislation for young undocumented individuals. The DREAM act had died that same summer and this new act was supposed to rise from its ashes.

Downtown Chicago | Daniel Hernandez | CC-BY-SA

I remember hundreds of parents and their children eagerly waiting for information on what this new act was supposed to be. In time we learned about it: it was called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ).

It wasn’t citizenship, but it was at least an open door.

What DACA Is

  • Temporary relief of deportation for “low priority” immigrants.
  • Qualified individuals must have arrived in the US before 2007 and before age 16. Be 30 or younger as of June 2012; Enrolled/graduated in high or have an equivalent (GED), and have a clean criminal record.
  • Provides worker’s permit that must be renewed every two years.
  • Provides a social security number.

What DACA Isn’t

  • Citizenship or legal resident status
  • A “free pass” towards citizenship or legal resident status

Gate Keepers

You think you got me, you think you got me figured out? It’s been to long and you’re quick to judge things without taking the time to see for yourself.
The Plot in You — Living Your Dream

It’s easy to say “go back where you came from” or “get in line”.

“My family did it, so why can’t you? Why can’t yours?”

Contrary to popular belief, legally immigrating to this country is a long, dated, and difficult process.

Credits: Mike Flynn and Shikha Dalmia 
Illustrated by Terry Colon

Here’s the TL; DR: If you don’t have the money, the connections, the profession, or the correct political climate you aren’t coming in.

A giant belief in this this country is that “if you work hard enough, you can get far in life”. To say, if my family had worked “hard enough”, they would have been able to legally come into this country.

If there’s anyone I know that has earned their right to rest, it’s my parents. My dad had to drop out of middle school in to work in order to support his impoverished family. To this day, he works a physically taxing job and he does it with a smile on his face because he knows that he’s able to provide the life he never had.

My mother was raised by a single parent who worked multiple jobs. Even with that, my mother still had to work to help put food on the table. She wasn’t able to finish high school. Sometimes I sit down with her and discuss her passions: writing, education, social work, travel. She wanted to go to college and have a career. But this is not a privilege she had.

These are just two of thousands of similar stories of people born into misfortune. Does this legally justify their decision to come to this country? Maybe not. But it does paint a picture that there’s something broken? Definitely.

It’s not as simple as “get in line” or “fix your country” (which, by the way, I could dedicate an entire article to. Spoiler: my country has a history of corruption, bastardization, and exploitation. A good amount at the hands of the ol’ US of A).

So what’s my solution? I don’t have one. There’s no simple catch all solution, but something has to give. This country’s immigration system is broken and needs an overhaul.

My Gate To A Better Life

My upbringing in this country was rocky for a number of reasons. Still, I wouldn’t ever dare to change it. It made me the person I am today. By all definitions of the word, I consider myself to be American. I love this country and would not want to be anywhere else.

I was lucky enough to be able to qualify for DACA. I remember when I got that permit.

I vowed to not let this privilege go to waste. I like to think I haven’t.

Because of DACA, I am able to to go to college. Because of DACA, I’m able to have a bank account. Because of DACA, I’m able to build credit. Because of DACA, I can work.

Fellow interns and I.

This summer I was able to intern at a company called GitHub. I’ll save you the reading time, but GitHub is what I could call my “dream company”.

I was able to collaborate alongside many individuals that pour their heart and soul into their work. My cohort was composed of 23 interns with very similar motivations.

I worked at GitHub’s Social Impact. The team focuses on genuinely great initiatives for the betterment of tech and society as whole: diversity and inclusion efforts, increasing the availability of tech, to name two.

They say that internships show you what you want to do. I can very confidently say that I have solidified what I want to dedicate my life to. This internship really helped me grow as a person and as a professional. My team helped me find my voice and make it loud.

Today, I want this to be the first step.

DACA Isn’t Just Holding My Dream

It’s holding the dream of 800,000 others. We all don’t share the same background. Some of us are from Mexico, others from Greece, Kenya, the Philippines, etc.

A thing that always gets lost in the narrative is this:

We are human

We are not economic assets, we are not a workforce, we are not statistics, and we are not headlines. We are humans with real emotions, real obstacles

If you’ve made it this far, I have a request for you.

Help us defend DREAMers. Help us call, protest, and organize. A lot of us are have and continue to live in fear. (I know that this is the main reason why I kept quiet all of these years). But please, don’t forget that we are human. Don’t advocate for us as an “economical assets”. Advocate for our humanity.

To my fellow DREAMers who live in fear, we are here for you. I am too. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you need an ear (@ScarletDawn32 on Twitter).

To my fellow DREAMers that want to make their voices louder, do. This is the time.

I’m sick and tired of hiding this part of my identity.

Together we can and will continue to make these dreams our realities.

Thank you.

Daniel Hernandez
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