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David Cho studied international economics and Korean at UCLA and is the first Korean and first undocumented student to be conductor and drum major in the history of UCLA’s marching band. He shares his story today and makes clear that he never wants to be called the i-word.

By the way, David delivered an inspiring speech at the Campus Progress National Conference in 2010, which you can watch above. In it, he explained:

As we rise to the challenge of change, let us continue to re-dedicate ourselves to the commitment and the involvement and the common efforts to create a new society and a new nation. It’s been more than a year since President Obama promised us just and humane immigration reform. Mr. President, we cannot wait any longer. You said that change in this country comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. So we’re here today to ask that you give our generation a chance, an opportunity for us to contribute back to this nation. But we’re not gonna stop trying until we get it. We will continue to mobilize, we will continue to organize and we will not give up until we all achieve our dreams. DREAM ACT NOW!

Powerful words, right? You can enter to win a trip to D.C. and opportunity to give a similar keynote at the Campus Progress conference in 2011 by submitting a short video on how you are creating real solutions for racial and social justice! The deadline is this weekend on May 22. Click here to submit.

For the “I Am…” storytelling project, people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language about immigrants. Stories are gathered in collaboration with allies and campaign partners. We are grateful to Cho for his story today.

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I Am Rising to the Challenge

I came to California from South Korea when I was nine years old with my two younger sisters and our parents, who brought our family here because they believed we could fulfill the “American Dream.” We came here on a tourist visa, changed to religious visa and went through the legal process of obtaining a green card for about eight years until our sponsor mismanaged our paperwork. I grew up in Los Angeles where I was often both physically and verbally abused by bullies. I turned that frustration and anger into motivation to study hard in school. I graduated from my high school with a 3.9 grade point average. I love my parents because like so many immigrant parents, they sacrifice so much for our family. My dad works at a gas station plus graveyard shift, barely sleeping four to five hours a day, and my mom is currently unemployed. They continue to keep me sane.

I found out that I was undocumented after graduating from high school. I live in Los Angeles. My UCLA community is very supportive of my advocacy for the DREAM Act. I am passionate, but at the same time, not having documents, I feel like I’m living inside an invisible prison cell. I cannot get a driver’s license, work legally, and apply for any state or federal financial aid. To make ends meet, like many college students, I tutored high school students 20 hours a week during my four years at UCLA. I also commuted to school 30 miles per day via public transportation and slept in my friends’ closets when I could not take the bus ride back home.

I share my story because making personal connections can help bridge understanding. After all, we are all human beings, and I like to think most of us are reasonable people.

Immigrants are scapegoated in this country and it needs to stop along with the demonizing language that enables people to blame us for everything. It’s easy to blame immigrants during a weak economic state, but we must look at root causes and our own economic system and accountability.

I have been called the i-word many times. It feels eerie every time I hear it. There are some people who are simply misinformed and think it’s a correct term. At the same time, there are those who deliberately use it saying “illegal is illegal.” The i-word only criminalizes people and rouses tension and hatred that leads to bad laws, bullying and even much worse.

There’s a huge difference between saying “undocumented student” and “illegal alien.” I’m just a student without papers, but I’m organizing to get them. Do you think you can use “undocumented student” instead? Or call me David? Will you Drop the I-Word? Will you join me and sign the pledge at droptheiword.com?

—David Cho

Read this online at http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/05/drop_the_i-word_i_amrising_to_the_challenge.html


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