By: Dr. José M. Aguilar-Hernández, Assistant Professor in Ethnic & Women's Studies and committee member for the Undocumented Student Support & Advocacy Committee
Dalia García is a Cal Poly Pomona alumnus who arrived to campus as an undocumented student. Dalia is from Pénjamo, Guanajuato, México, and the daughter of hard working parents. Her family came to the United States when she was five years old. They migrated to Pomona, California, where she went to Roosevelt Elementary, Marshal Middle School, and Ganesha High School. She graduated from Ganesha as Class Valedictorian in 2009. At Cal Poly Pomona, Dalia was a Psychology major and became a leader in the undocumented student group, Demanda Estudiantil Para la Igualdad Educacional (DEPIE). She is currently a Scholarship Specialist at Cal Poly Pomona and also sits on the Undocumented Students Support and Advocacy Committee (USSAC).
I had the pleasure to sit with Dalia and learn about her personal and academic trajectory as an undocumented student, community leader, and student activist. Below is a transcript of an interview I conducted with Dalia, that narrates her story of struggle and resilience.
Dr. Aguilar-Hernández (AH): I’m interested in hearing about your application process to
Cal Poly Pomona. How was it applying as an undocumented student?
Dalia García (DG): So, I think it was sophomore year of high school, actually it might have
been freshman [year]…there was a new program in Pomona called Bright Prospect and they
were recruiting students in the ninth grade to help them get to college. So, I was selected
as part of that group, and with them I learned a lot about college, a lot about everything, but it
wasn’t until junior year that it really hit me like “hey, you may not be able to go to the college
you want to.” And at that time I was like “I don’t think I’m going to be the one making the
decision. The decision is going to be made for me in terms of financial resources and whoever
accepts me.” And that’s what happened. I think, when is it? Junior year, when you apply, I
applied to college as an international student and on a particular Saturday, I got eight rejection
letters, one after another. It was heartbreaking. I think I told my mom “Mom, can you pray
so that maybe tomorrow I get an acceptance letter?” I wanted to be admitted to a private
university because everybody would tell me “You can get a full ride at a private university. At
the CSU and UC level, you might have to pay.” So that was the hard part, knowing that I was
graduating as Class Valedictorian with the highest GPA but all my friends were getting accepted
to the schools that they wanted to and they were able to make the decision, whereas for me, it
was just “whatever you can afford.” That was tough.
AH: Do you think these private schools that rejected you, that it had anything to do with your
DG: Absolutely. I don’t think they were familiar with what undocumented students were. They
were just “You don’t have the proper documentation. You shouldn’t even be here.” So, yes,
absolutely, I think I was rejected because I was undocumented. I don’t think they knew how to
process those applications.
AH: Do you remember a time in your educational career where you understood, or felt what it
meant to be undocumented, or the challenges of being undocumented as a student?
DG: I think I understood what it meant to be undocumented once I was here at Cal Poly Pomona
and I got involved, because, as a student, I commuted, went to class, and all that, but it wasn’t
until I met students like me that I was like “Oh my god. There are more students, there’s more
undocumented students out there.” DEPIE definitely helped. That’s when I think I was like
“Hey, I’m not alone. I can do this.” And even then, you just continue to learn what it’s like to be
undocumented all throughout your college career, even after you graduate. Even now that I’m
not undocumented, I still think about it and…think back on certain things. And I’m still learning
more about myself, because it’s all [about] identity: who you are, what do you want to do?, how
are people labeling you? So you’re always learning.
AH: Do you remember your first DEPIE meeting? What did it feel like to be among other
DG: It was good! It was good. I felt that I wasn’t alone. They looked normal. [laughter] And it’s
so weird to say that, but you always feel different as an undocumented student. Everyone
seemed to like each other, and it was good. Like I said, it felt normal, and I felt happy that now I
was able to relate to other students that were going through the same stuff. I became a leader in
DEPIE I think my junior year. My sophomore year, if I remember correctly, towards the end of
it, I became External Affairs, and that’s how I learned about CHIRLA and the California Dream
Network. I was going to those meetings. And then my junior year, I became co-Chair of DEPIE.
AH: What did DEPIE work on during your time?
DG: So when I actually got introduced that first year, I met a lot of good people like Rosa
Portugal, and just a lot of people that had been here [Cal Poly Pomona] for quite a few quarters
now. I remember we marched around campus a couple of times because we wanted the DREAM
Act to pass. Not only the California DREAM Act but also the federal DREAM Act. We just
wanted the DREAM Act to pass because we wanted federal aid. And we eventually helped other
undocumented student groups at different schools.
AH: You mentioned struggles, and I’m wondering if you could say a little bit more on what are
the struggles of undocumented students at Cal Poly Pomona?
DG: One struggle that I remember from when I was a student is access to food. When I was
here, I was here the whole day because I didn’t have a car. That’s another struggle. Not being
able to go back home…it would take me two hours on public transportation, but I had to be here
the whole day. I went a lot to the Native American Student Center and I was really happy that
there was a place where I could hang out. I was invited to go to the NASC because other
undocumented students would go there. They felt safe in that particular center.
AH: Can you reflect, as someone who was undocumented, what’s the historical significance of
the Bronco Dreamers Resource Center opening?
DG: When I got the email, about the grand opening I was in my office, it was around 3:00 pm,
towards the end of the day. I read the email and I wanted to scream. I just wanted to shout
because I was so happy. It was an amazing experience. Even right now, I’m getting a little
choked up because it’s a demand that has come before me. Generations before me have been
fighting for a center and now that it’s happening, it’s like “After so many years, it’s finally
happening!” Very emotional. Even though I’m not an undocumented student today, I was an
undocumented student for 15 years. That experience is never going to go away; it’s part of who
I am. It’s how I grew up.
AH: What is your advice for undocumented students who are considering Cal Poly Pomona as
their college choice?
DG: I encourage undocumented students to become Broncos! The campus is undocumented
student friendly with a lively community and resources that are available year-round. We need
new generations of students to come and leave their mark on our campus. This must be done to
pave the road for future generations. Cal Poly Pomona is a prestigious university and as such,
students will always be challenged in and out of the classroom, guaranteed. Join us at Cal Poly