‘Don’t Ever Stop Dreaming’

Kimberly. Liera

Marco Espinoza snapped this photo on May 24 as Kimberly Liera, a member of the Class of 2019 at Nogales High School, talked to her mother and sister through the U.S.-Mexico border fence. The photo was taken by Marco Espinoza, who said, ““When I noticed her talking to someone at the border wall, my heart just fell apart, shattered into a million pieces, that she has to see her family this way. I turned my car around a second time and took the picture.” The photo went viral on social media.

Immigrant students graduating from high schools and colleges this month tell inspiring stories, even when the future looks uncertain. With DACA applications suspended by the administration, nearly 100,000 undocumented high school seniors graduate knowing that they could be arrested and deported at any time. Others, like Kimberly Liera, pictured above, are separated from parents on graduation day by immigration restrictions. Even with these difficulties, graduates’ stories show the amazing potential and contributions of young immigrants, like

  • Pwe Ku, a refugee and a Worthington, MN graduate;
  • Frank Baez, graduating with a nursing degree from the university where he began working as a janitor;
  • Oballa Oballa who arrived in Austin, MN “with nothing but 2 pants and 3 shirt from Ifo/Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya;”
  • Adolfo Gonzalez, going from California farmworker to teacher;
  • Erica Alfaro, honoring her farmworker parents as she graduates with a master’s degree in education;
  • Sandra Murillo and her daughter Katherine, graduating from college together.

Pwe Ku—Worthington, Minnesota

“For Ku, graduating from high school is an accomplishment worth celebrating. As a refugee from Burma (Myanmar), Ku said he’s grateful for the opportunities the Worthington area has provided him.

“‘After World War II the Burmese lost power,’ Ku said about the longest civil war in world history that continues today. ‘The military regime kept burning villages. It got to the point where my parents had to leave.’…

“‘We didn’t really have that good of health care in (refugee) camps,’ he said, adding that it was once his mother’s dream to become a doctor, but she was unable due to ongoing war. ‘She made me choose whatever I wanted to do, but I chose to do the things she never could have done.’

“Beginning this fall, Ku will major in biology at St. Cloud University on a pre-medicine track. Second to his older sister, Ku will be one of the first in his family to attend college.”

Frank Baez—New York

Frank Baez was a teenager when he started working as a janitor at New York University’s Langone Tisch Hospital, cleaning patient rooms, bathrooms and hallways.

“On Monday, Baez, now 29, graduated with a nursing degree from the same institution where he started as a janitor.

“I could barely speak English at the time when I started working at NYU,” said Baez, who moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with his mom at age 15. “Now I reflect on it and I feel very proud of how much I accomplished.”

Oballa O Oballa —Austin, Minnesota, telling his story in his own words on Facebook:

I would like to thanks God Almighty for giving me the strength and ability to make it this far.

I would like to highlight and share the little achievements that I had received since I move to this country. Hopefully it will motivate and inspire someone outside there to get involve.

#December#3rd 2013. I made here with Nothing but 2 pants and 3 shirt from Ifo/Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya.

March 2014 I attended Boxelder job corps SD

August 2014 served as President of SGA of Boxelder to December 2014

March 2015 graduate with HS and PCA/CNA

April 2015 started working at #Mayo#Clinic

August 2015 started College at Riverland

August 2016 joined student Senates

2016 appointed by Austin MN #Mayo rto serve on #Human#rights#commission

2016 elected as student Senate Public Relations Coordinator

2017 elected as students Senate #President

2017 elected as Southeast Region Platform Representative of LeadMN

2018 elected as #Vice#President of LeadMN to serve the 180,000 two-year community and Technical College of Minnesota

2018 my story made it to The #Chronicle#of#Higher#education#news article in #Philadelphia

2019 #President elect of LeadMN.

2019 #Graduate from College

Every year I am trying my best to make a step towards my American dreams.

“I move to this country with a believes if I work hard I will get what I want. ” Oballa.

As President John F. Kennedy said,

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. ” J F. Kennedy.

“I might had came here with nothing but I am working towards something.”

Oballa Oballa.

Adolfo González—Salinas Valley, California

“In the Salinas Valley, he worked for years in celery fields to support his family.

“Yet the former farmworker never gave up on education. He learned English at adult school. Now, just a year after his daughter became the first in her family to earn her bachelor’s degree, González has one of his own….

“He plans to get his master’s in education, but his next step is to give back. He points out disparities for Latino pupils, who are less likely to complete college than their white peers. And he wants to promote bilingual education so people are more competitive in a global economy while not forgetting their roots.

“Teaching, he believes, is his way to help Salinas, where there’s been a severe teacher shortage.”

Erica Alfaro—San Diego, California

“Erica Alfaro says she never forgot the advice her mom gave her when the two worked long hours together in California’s Central Valley tomato fields.

“One day, I was very tired and told my mom and she said to me, ‘This is how life is going to be from now on. The only people who don’t have to go through this get an education.’ Those words stuck with me,” Alfaro, 29, told CNN on Saturday.

“On May 19, Alfaro graduated from San Diego State University with a master’s degree in education, with a concentration in counseling. She decided to honor her parents in her graduation photos, standing in her cap and gown with her parents, in work clothes, in the middle of the fruit fields where her mother still works.”

Sandra Murillo and Katherine Lopez-Murillo—New Jersey

“Sandra Murillo arrived in the United States from Colombia with one suitcase, $1,000 and a goal to eventually be joined by her daughter to share the new life she would start.

“Two decades later, Murillo and daughter, Katherinn Lopez-Murillo, donned their mortarboards and on the same day, graduated from the same college.

“Murillo, 46, and Lopez-Murillo, 25, of Woodland Park, New Jersey, earned their college degrees from William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, this week. Lopez-Murillo has a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice, while her mother earned a bachelor of science in public health….

“Whatever you have in mind, hold your dreams tight and work for it,” Murillo said. “That’s what I told my daughter. Don’t ever stop dreaming!”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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