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Undocumented dreamers

By Christopher Goffard

Maria Gomez stood with the Class of 2011, waiting to climb the stage. The sun was bright on the UCLA campus, her fellow graduates buoyant.

To reach this elite company, she’d worked baby-sitting and housecleaning jobs, scraping up tuition from quarter to quarter. She’d lived on Cup Noodles and granola bars from the food bank when money ran out. She’d spent nights sleeping on the floor of the campus printing room.

At 26, she was getting her master’s in architecture from one of the nation’s top schools. But the triumph felt hollow, her sense of achievement tangled up with bitterness and fear.

From childhood on, she’d straddled paradoxical Americas.

This was the place where your family’s foothold might be dislodged by a single careless word. It was where you had to lie when friends asked why you didn’t have a driver’s license: “An eye condition.” It was where, when your dignified and stoic father thought he saw an immigration-enforcement van, fear made his voice unrecognizable as he screamed: Don’t move!

But there was another America her parents had made her believe in, where the children of immigrants could become professionals, chief executives, pioneers.

The country that made you hide like a criminal and the country that promised to let you stand tall atop your talent — she’d grown up with both, somehow believed in both. But now, about to be pitched into a job market where she could not legally work, she felt dread in her stomach.

Could both places be real?

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