A Dreamer Reminds Us Our Kids Will Write Our History
PART IV: Being Latino And Working In Education Today
Interview By: R.D. Leyva
Yesterday was the renewal deadline for thousands of young undocumented immigrants who were granted two-year work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Trump announced the program is being phased out over the next five months unless Congress takes action during that time.
Since its enactment in 2012, the DACA program provided temporary deportation relief for over 800,000 “DACAmented” recipients, known as Dreamers. The program has allowed Dreamers to pursue new educational opportunities and jobs aligned to their education and training.
Latinos for Education member, Marissa Molina, is one of the Dreamers that participates in the DACA program.
Marissa was brought to the U.S. at the age of 9. Throughout her educational experience, she didn’t speak about her undocumented immigration status until she found herself applying for colleges without a social security number. With support from her counselor, she enrolled in Fort Lewis College and applied for DACA status during her college tenure. Upon graduation she joined Teach For America and began her career in education. In 2015, Marissa was recognized by the Obama White House as a Champion of Change for her work as an DACAmented educator and a change agent in her community. She serves as the Manager of Community Engagement at Rocky Mountain Prep in Denver, Colorado where she helps families advocate for their children.
As a Dreamer and as a Latina, Marissa shares similar backgrounds with many of the students and families she works with. In the fourth installment of our Hispanic Heritage Month series about being Latino in education, Marissa reflects on these shared identities and her work with students and families.
What does it mean to be Latino and working in education today?
MARISSA MOLINA: Today, more than ever as a Latina in education, I feel my work matters. As our community is attacked and vilified, we serve to provide a different narrative about who we are as a community. This is important not just for the way others perceive us – it is most important for our Latino students. They must see people like them in their schools and in positions of power to remind them of the possibilities that exist for them and to support them in finding their way in the world.
When events like the elimination of DACA occur, what is our collective responsibility as Latinos working in education?
MARISSA MOLINA: We need to remind our kids the next chapter in history will be written by them. Our students need to know they have the power to change things if the events of recent months are not a reflection of the values they want this country to stand for. To do that, we must be willing to engage in difficult conversations and dialogue. As educators, we cannot afford to be apolitical right now and we cannot reach our kids or honor them as people if we don’t provide the time and space to acknowledge what is happening around them.
“Our students need to know they have the power to change things if the events of recent months are not a reflection of the values they want this country to stand for.”
How does your identity impact your approach to leadership?
MARISSA MOLINA: My identity as an undocumented American and DACAmented educator taught me the power of leading with your story. Growing up I heard and read so much misinformation about who undocumented people were and I grew up believing some of those horrible things about myself and was very ashamed. The moment I accepted my struggle and my story were powerful and something to be proud of I grew comfortable in my own voice and my own power. As a Latina leader in education, especially in our current political climate, I am constantly fighting for our schools to be safe and loving spaces where all our students, families and staff can acknowledge their stories. There is so much power in that recognition and in having other people around you learn from that story while dismantling the misinformation they were taught about who we are.
What is one piece of advice for leaders working directly with Latino students and families?
MARISSA MOLINA: Remind our students and the leaders around us our community is strong and resilient. Despite the hostility and acts of hatred today and in the past, our people thrived and stood strong. Don’t ever lose hope in our ability to make change happen.
We encourage you to share this article on social media using the hashtag #HispanicHeritageMonth. This interview is the fourth part of a five-part interview series describing what it means to be Latino and working in education today. Read the previous interviews here: Part I with Dr. Nancy Gutierrez, Part II with Antonio Plascencia Jr., and Part III with Omar Yanar.