Faces of Dreamers: Carlos Aguilar, Harvard Graduate School of Education

January 6, 2020

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This is one in a series of posts on individual Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as young children, many of whom are under threat of deportation following the Trump administration’s decision in September 2017 to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA.

Despite attending Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, 28-year-old Carlos Aguilar does not want to be your token Dreamer.

“Other than Harvard, I’m no one. No one cares about me. They just know that I go to Harvard, and now they treat me well.” Aguilar said in an interview with MassLive. “It’s difficult because with every action that I make, I kind of reinforce those narratives.”

Originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, Aguilar came to the United States at age 14. Settling in Kerrville, Texas, he started ninth grade, but as he did not know English, he initially struggled in school. Still, he persevered, learning English primarily through self-study.

Before attending Harvard, he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Scheiner University in 2012 and his master’s degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio shortly after. By the time President Obama announced DACA in late 2012, Aguilar had already started work as a busboy at a Central Texas restaurant to pay his way through college. For him to be able to afford his degree, employment was a necessity—not a choice.

The irony of his situation did not escape Aguilar.

“They [the government] want people to get legalized, but at the same time they don’t want to provide legalization channels because the economic structure that we have rely (sic) on communities having a cheapened, disposable labor force,” he said. “That’s how I paid for my masters. I saved up at least the first year, then I continued working three jobs during my master’s.”

Soon after obtaining DACA status, Aguilar started working as a cashier at a Mexican restaurant in Kerrville and paying taxes. While earning his master’s degree, he worked three jobs: one at the restaurant, another at a law firm, and the last as a research assistant at his university.

But Aguilar, for all his struggles and successes, wants to re-center attention on all the other Dreamers leading normal lives, who don’t attend elite universities and might never be acknowledged. They are the focus of his doctoral research, which examines mental health issues among undocumented immigrants and tries to fill in the research gaps on that community.

“Most are going to community colleges, vocational training. Most have, relatively speaking, very happy lives with DACA. They were able to have great families because they have some sort of stability,” he said. “[A]ll these gains that we don’t think of as important, these are important for our communities.”

–Zubin Hill

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