Telling my story for change

By Johan, Dream Scholar

Every story has power. As an immigrant from El Salvador and an undocumented student at Virginia Tech, telling my story empowers me. It can also be a vital communications tool used to promote social change that we want to see in our communities, our state, our country and even our world. 

I arrived in the United States at the age of nine and made my way through high school unaware of the barrier my immigration status would become during the college application process. I was initially discouraged and afraid of my unknown future. However, I was determined to reach my goals and achieve my aspirations. As an undocumented student I don’t qualify for in-state tuition or federal aid and I am not able to take out loans. Despite these obstacles I started my first year at Virginia Tech thanks to the help of my parents, scholarship organizations like the Dream Project, and many others that have supported me along the way. However, I’m still unsure about the ways I will fund my future years at Virginia Tech.

During the VACALAO Advocacy Day on January 16th, 2020, members of the Dream Project and other organizations united in Richmond during the Virginia legislative session to advocate for in-state tuition for undocumented students and driver’s licenses for all — issues affecting immigrants in Virginia. These changes would ultimately make safer roads and provide equitable access to education. The state legislature approving a tuition equity bill for students like me would be life changing and provide us an opportunity to obtain a college degree and reach our dreams. Throughout the day the results of our advocacy efforts were evident as we went from office to office, telling each of our stories and explaining how these changes would positively impact all Virginians. It was very heartening to see lawyers, business and non-profit leaders, students from various Virginia universities, family members, and even legislators supporting this cause. Although there were some who did not seem currently supportive, the seeds of our stories were planted in them. I believe being an active participant in advocacy day was a profoundly rewarding and unique experience that empowered all of us who took action. I encourage others to do the same — tell your stories for empowerment and change!