Latino Giant: Benita Veliz

Benita_Veliz_1jpgIf I had to pick one single word to describe my 2012 year, I would pick change. There have been many changes that have occurred in my life this year!

I began the year as Benita Veliz, single, independent DREAM activist who had just been granted administrative relief on a 3 year long legal battle in immigration court. Due to a routine traffic stop in January of 2009, my life was completely changed. Although I’ve lived in San Antonio, TX, for almost 20 years, I have never been able to adjust my immigration status. For this reason, when an officer pulled me over for not making a complete stop at a stop sign, I was sent to an immigration detention center and was nearly deported from the only place I had ever known to be home.

Thanks to an up-rise of support from my community, I began to advocate on behalf of the DREAM Act, which is a bill that would allow for undocumented immigrants like myself, who have been raised in the US and who have no legal way of adjusting their status, to have a pathway to permanent residency and eventually, citizenship.

Three and a half years after beginning to advocate for the DREAM Act, I found myself chosen to be the very first undocumented immigrant to speak at a national political convention. I addressed the Democratic National Convention, speaking to the biggest audience I have ever had the privilege of addressing, and representing millions of others in my situation.

Stepping unto the platform at the Democratic National Convention was, for me, an overwhelming experience. In the few seconds it took for me to walk up to the platform, the last two decades of my life flashed through my mind. I was that little 10 year old who loved to learn and that excited 14 year old who had just found out she was valedictorian of her high school class, and then that disappointed 15 year old who realized she would not be able to get a driver’s license. I was that tired 19 year old college student who couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel during finals week, and that embittered 23 year old who worked as a waitress in spite of having had two bachelor’s degrees since the age of 20. But more importantly, I was the young lady I met a few years ago, with a teaching degree, but tossing salads for a living. I was that aspiring film makers whose films had won him large notoriety, but whose immigration status prevented him from a basic ID. I was that the scared high school senior with high hopes and even higher challenges. Those few seconds were not long, but yet, they were a lifetime.

To see an undocumented immigrant on such a major platform, regardless of your political inclination, is a monumental success for immigrants. I believe it is the representation of many years of hard work, advocating, sharing stories and coming out of the shadows. To know that a political party would recognize and value the contribution and importance of immigrants, and take a stance in their support by allowing them to have a voice, is a huge success for us. The fact that I got to be the one to represent us isn’t important, but the fact that an undocumented immigrant was chosen is huge. I believe it represents a change of status for the American immigrant. We are no longer hiding in the shadows. We have a voice. We have always mattered, but now many more people recognize this.

Just as immigrants have experienced a change of status, I personally have gone through many changes. This year, I met the love of my life. I had always considered this phrase over-romanticized, but after meeting Josue, I can’t find another way to describe him. I love him wholeheartedly and I am blessed because he loves me too and we are getting married!

In 2013, I will not only be getting married, but also moving to a different city, starting a new job and even going back to school for my masters. Perhaps the biggest change for me will be that for the first time in 20 years, I will be a permanent resident. Change is coming, but if there is anything I have learned in 2012, it’s that change can be good, very good. I am grateful for all the blessings and the change that 2012 brought, and I cannot wait to see what 2013 brings…not only for me personally, but for DREAMers all across the country, whose dreams, slowly but surely, are coming true.