Voces del Mañana Holds Mock Graduation Ceremony

Jessica Bourse

Crowds of students gathered under the hot sun, anticipating the next two hours – some speaking among themselves, while others stood silent, waiting patiently for the words that may possibly change their futures.

The Speaker of California’s State Assembly, Democrat Fabian Nunez, as well as Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), spoke at the college on April 29 in an event presented by Voces del Mañana.

The two-part event commenced at 11:30 a.m. and consisted of a news conference and mock graduation held in Plaza Vaquero. Reporters from television stations KTLA, Telemundo and Univision were also present.

Student organizations from college campuses such as Los Angeles (LACC), East Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Cal Poly Pomona, and CSUN joined Glendale’s Voces del Mañana to become Students for Equal Access to Education. The student alliance, along with CHIRLA and Nuñez, is striving to pass Assembly Bill 2083.

AB 2083, if passed, would do three things for California’s educational system. The first would be to open access to financial aid for all eligible students, regardless of immigration status.

Second, a college education would be made accessible and affordable to all students, since AB 2083 collaborates with anti-fee hikes.

Third, private scholarship foundations would be available to all students, including undocumented students.

Salas spoke first, thanking everyone at the campus who made the event possible. She then explained why CHIRLA cares about immigrant civil rights, as well as the educational rights of undocumented students.

“California’s youth are California’s future,” said Salas, as the crowds of students repeated the phrase with her.
She asked the crowd, “Do we care enough about our future? Immigrant youth and the children of immigrants make up 50 percent of the youth in the state of California. Are you going to let anti-immigrant. hate and xenophobia jeopardize our economic, social, cultural and political well-being? So, if we care about our future. then we will get these young people to the finish line by making sure they finish college.when we help them, we help ourselves.”

Assembly Bill 540, passed in 2001, granted undocumented students access to attend college by paying in-state tuition. However, these students are not eligible for any kind of financial aid, making the goals of a higher education inaccessible to many.

According to CHIRLA, “Every year, all college students contribute to an institutional fund that comes out of their student fees and tuition. This money is later distributed to students through academic scholarships.”

The annual report on AB540 tuition exemptions, 2005-06, states “AB 540 students contribute over $6 million to [scholarship] institutional funds, yet they are denied access to apply for institutional educational awards.”

According to the national organization, Children Now, “more than 2 million of California’s children [AB 540 students] will not be able to attend college.”

Students and teachers applauded as Nuñez took the podium. He began discussing the state budget and priorities.

“When you look at how California pays its bills [budget] over the years,” said Nuñez, “our correctional system and correctional facilities, their funding is on the increase. Our higher education funding is on the decrease and therefore, student fees are on the rise. That’s not in the best interest of California, nor that we’re putting our priorities where they are properly placed.”

“To keep an adult incarcerated,” said Nuñez, “California spends 45,000 a year. So we are doing a good job, investing in keeping people in jail and increasing sentences, so that it looks good. we’re fighting crime. But at the same time, in these tough economic times, we are not making education the priority that it ought to be.”

Nuñez introduced AB 2083 to the campus with a brief lecture on California’s history.

“California was a state that, over the years, people have decided to come here and invest in the opportunity to live
a better life,” said Nuñez,”and this went back all the way to the Gold Rush, when people first came to the Golden State for a better standard of living.

“As we look at the promise of opportunity, we are not going to turn our backs on the thousands of students, in the state of California,” said Nuñez, “that are being left out in the cold, without appropriate financial aid assistance. And I’m talking specifically about the undocumented students of California that deserve more than our moral support. They deserve us to put our money where our mouth is, and provide for them the financial aid necessary so that they too can have a piece of the California dream of opportunity.”

“This year,” said Nuñez, “we’re going to sit down with Gov. Schwarzenegger, and we’re going to say to him, ‘If you’re going to veto any of my bills, veto them all. But there’s one bill I want you to sign, and that’s AB 2083.”

According to Nuñez, if passed, AB 2083 won’t just benefit undocumented students, but all students in California who are facing economic hardship. It would also benefit the state’s economy in the long-run, because the more education and training the youth recieves, the more qualified they become as adults. These skilled adults would keep the jobs here, instead of businesses outsourcsing jobs to countries like China or India, due to lack of a competent workforce.

“As an AB 540 students,” Said Jafet Rodriquez, 20, LACC history major, “and undocumented citizen of the world, and as a human being, I’ve looked back at my history and I have found that education is one of the only few means by which I have been able to survive.”

Rodriguez described his parents’ struggle, as they worked for 19 years so that he may have a life they never had. Now, as a college student, he can’t take part in the activities that others students can, such as working a job or driving a car because he doesn’t have an ID, papers or a social security number.

“I feel like a criminal,” said Rodriguez, “I feel trapped. I feel like my parents worked and worked, and for what, if I can’t finish my education?”

After the press conference, Voces del Mañana presented a mock graduation, with students dressed in caps and gowns. The mock graduation represented the struggles endured by AB 540 students, and the constant battles they fight in order to keep their dreams alive, including language barriers, discrimination, and financial hardships.

“I felt that it was inspiring to see the students standing up for themselves,” said Nataly Hernandez, 21, English major, “They’re fighting for what they believe in and it shows a great deal of strength. people in the United States shouldn’t have to fight for the right to be educated.”