Changing The World- With or Without a Social
I always heard my mother complain about not having “papeles,” or papers. I never paid much attention to this because it wasn’t affecting me — or so I thought. My mother’s struggles soon became my own, and I tried my best to relieve some pressure by helping her raise my siblings and doing great in school. Anyone would have expected great things from me after graduation. I grew up thinking that if I did just as well as any student, I deserved an education, but I’ve learned the hard way that this isn’t true. I have to fight twice as hard as anyone else, and in the end, I may still be rejected.
The summer before becoming a senior, I participated in a College Bound program that would help me decide on my major. During those weeks, I learned about ways to finance a college education. While I was telling my mom about financial aid, she asked me if I qualified for it. I thought I did, but there was a small doubt. Later, I found out that I didn’t qualify for any aid. I didn’t agree; if I studied like others did, why wouldn’t I get any help?
As senior year started, so did college applications and acceptance letters. I applied to City University of New York schools because these were the only ones I could afford if given scholarships; I didn’t look into or even think about state and private colleges. When I got accepted, I sat in my living room and cried with my mom. I was the first in my family to be accepted into college. My mother had left Colombia for this exact reason, a better life for her children.
Towards the end of my senior year I attended an orientation session at the college of my choice. I took all the paperwork I had as a senior in high school and marched into the financial aid office holding one of those 8×11 orange folders. I remember sitting in the waiting room with my red flip flops on the clean and white tiled floor. When I was announced I remember feeling a surge of adrenaline rush through me. I was going to go to college and this lady was going to make it happen. Once she met me she might change her mind and help fund my education. I wanted her to meet me in person, the real Angy, not the Angy who left the nine digit number box empty on the application.
I entered the room filled with cabinets and strict looking chairs, the administrator asked me to type my social security number into the keypad in front of me. Apparently I didn’t have a name, a sense of self or an identity. I sat there with determination written on my face and told her I did not have one. The administrator looked up at me, annoyed, and told me that coming into her office was a waste of her time as well as mine if I knew I did not qualify for help.
Her words were knives being stabbed into my heart. She quickly told me that without my own out of pocket cash I would not be able to go to school and I might as well look into other options. No help or pamphlets were offered to guide me. There were no business cards or staff members I could talk to about this. She dismissed me as quickly as I had come in and called the next student over while I just stood there in shock.
I started an intense scholarship search; I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me I couldn’t go to school. I wasn’t going to let anyone decide my future, and I was determined to prove to that administrator and anyone else that they were wrong. Months later I found myself at an awards ceremony receiving a scholarship for all my hard work. You see I had gone into hulk mode looking for scholarships and staying up all night studying as well as finishing application essays. This scholarship helped pay-off my first college semester, an award that I didn’t see coming my way.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the following semester, so I dropped my classes. It hurt to do it, but I had no choice, and I knew that this would be the first of many disillusionments. I feel like a tourist in my own school, and I’m scared of being kicked out for not being a steady student.
Now, I volunteer for that same organization which helped me with my first semester, the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC). They have given me many opportunities and provided me with hope for the future. The same hope that I want to give to others because I know there’s undocumented youth out there that want to give up. Sure, I might not have those famous nine digits now, but I’m already changing the world.
Angy Rivera is a Colombian-born New York-raised undocumented immigrant. She volunteers at the New York State Youth Leadership Council where she started the first undocumented youth advice column called Ask Angy. She is a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a part time super hero trying to inspire others to make a change.