For Chelsey Martinez, a Petaluma native and 2012 Casa Grande graduate, November 8, 2016 lingers as the date when everything changed for many of her family and friends.
As an administrative assistant at the College of Marin, Chelsey recalls going to work the day after the presidential election, to find her co-workers in tears, students frantic and in distress as they worried for the future of those young people widely referred to as Dreamers, those who’ve signed onto the legislation known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Many of the students Chelsey works with every day rely on DACA to complete the education they’ve started here in America.
“I’ve seen my community just very down, always worried,” she says. “Everyone is afraid. It wasn’t like that before.”
Though Chelsey was born an American citizen, she still worries about what might happen next for her parents. After 20 years of living in the United States, her parents finally earned their residency certificate. But they are still awaiting confirmation of American citizenship. Chelsey worries that her parents may still be denied that citizenship, erasing all the hard work and struggle they have gone through to make a better life for themselves and their family.
“They’re afraid to go out, they’re afraid to travel. They’re always watching the news,” she says. “It’s just really hard on them because they don’t know if they get to stay here or not, even if they have earned that residency.”
Chelsey explains that her parents immigrated to America in search of a safer life. Because her mother’s father was involved in Mexico’s unraveling politics, he constantly received threats, some describing an intention to kidnap his daughters. His wife, Chelsey’s grandmother, would receive verbal and physical threats as well.
“My mom decided that her children wouldn’t have that same life,” she says. “So, just to escape all of that, she immigrated here when she was married.”
Though it’s difficult enough to carry such concerns for her parents, Chelsey also worries for her husband, Esteban, also in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, which could take over two more years.
Though he has already filed paperwork, Chelsey says that doesn’t necessarily mean he is safe from a random deportation while the paperwork is processed.
“They can come any time, knock on our door and just take my husband if they wanted,” she says. “I’m constantly living that fear.”
Chelsey acknowledges that it is a privilege to have been born on American soil, but questions whether those privileges will be diminished if the political and economic climate worsens.
“Right now,” she points out, “I’m a college student, and I don’t know if paying off loans is going to be difficult for me in a few years. With the President and the Secretary of Education pulling money from schools, I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford going to grad school.”
Chelsey says she believes that progress and change can only happen if all the people in the nation join together, regardless of the diversity of their beliefs, to help all of those in need.
“That’s what America is about,” she says. “It’s built on so many colors, so many people, so many races, so many languages. People are free to be who they are here. That’s what makes it beautiful.”