Emmanuel Cordova | Coming out of the shadows


Guest Column | Penn should lead the change for undocumented students


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Emmanuel Cordova



My name is Emmanuel Cordova.

I am undocumented.

When I was 4 years old, I was brought to the United States from Mexico under unfortunate circumstances. My mother — faced with poverty and domestic abuse — left to provide a better life for my family.

During our first four months in this country, we were homeless. My mother’s undocumented status made it difficult for her to secure a job.

When my mother finally found a job, she endured 12-hour shifts but barely earned enough to support us. At night, I would often cry, fearing that my mother would not make it home, that the immigration authorities might raid her workplace and take her away. I felt helpless. I did not want to be separated from my family.

No child should ever have to feel this way.

Despite the harsh reality, we had each other and were thankful to be free from the violence in Mexico.

My family’s sacrifices gave me a fierce determination to succeed. But during my senior year in high school, I discovered that I was not eligible to work or obtain federal financial aid. My sense of ambition and perseverance was suddenly replaced by fear and disillusionment. I felt like I had let everyone down.

Thankfully, my high school guidance counselor helped me realize that I could apply for private scholarships and go to college. It was around this time that I discovered the University of Illinois at Chicago.

During my first year at UIC, I witnessed a political rally in downtown Chicago. This was the first time I saw undocumented students share their personal stories in public. I felt instantly relieved to know that there were others like me. I watched as these students came out of the shadows with tears in their eyes.

It was at this moment that I knew — I knew that I would no longer feel ashamed about my status. I had to take part in the movement.

Last year, Wharton junior Tania Chairez, a fellow undocumented student, revealed her status through a column in The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Her openness and courage diminished a climate of fear that had dominated this campus. Chairez has catalyzed the conversation surrounding immigrants’ rights at Penn and opened up spaces for further dialogue.

I transferred to Penn this year because I want to drive this movement forward and continue to educate this community.

I have nothing to gain by sharing my story. My story is for every undocumented high school student who is afraid to apply to college. It is for every undocumented college student who cannot continue to finance their education.

I am standing up for undocumented parents, who like my mother, work long hours for low wages, only to struggle to make ends meet. For families who live in fear that immigration authorities will tear them apart.

Although I am at a different campus in a different city — my goals remain the same. I will continue to defend the voiceless. I will continue to fight for immigrant rights.

I will not let the broken immigration system break me.

I want to make this world a fairer and better place. I want to do so by empowering other undocumented students.

We are Americans who deserve a fighting chance at life.

As America’s first university, Penn has set many precedents over the last 272 years. Let us lead the charge toward justice and equality for undocumented immigrants.

My name is Emmanuel Cordova. I am undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.

Emmanuel Cordova is a College junior from Chicago, Il. His email address is cordova1992@gmail.com.

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