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By Frank Wells

DACA student and new Student CTA President Viridiana Castro Silva

Viridiana Castro Silva was elected president of Student CTA in April. A liberal studies major at CSU Sacramento, she is entering her senior year and plans to pursue a master’s degree in education before beginning her teaching career. Castro Silva is undocumented, and since 2012 has been a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She is a vocal supporter and activist for the program and DACA students. (President Donald Trump rescinded the program for new applicants in 2017; in June the U.S. Supreme Court found that the administration handled the rescission incorrectly and has temporarily reinstated DACA.)

Viridiana Castro Silva

My parents and I came here from Mexico to Sacramento in August 2002. I had just turned 6. After we came here my parents set up a housecleaning business. My dad eventually started working in food prep for various coffee shops, then worked building custom closets.

My parents knew school was important. I remember them taking me around to check out five or six public schools and asking me what I did or didn’t like about each one.

Her immigration status and its impact

When other people asked my family [why we didn’t go back to Mexico to visit], the cover story was that it was for monetary reasons. The real reason was that reentry here was a barrier.

In the Latinx community we’re told not to tell anybody because of the huge risk involved and someone might use that information in a malicious way. By the end of second grade I was recruited as an office translator for new Spanish-speaking students and their parents. They would tell me their status but in kind of a coded way — kind of the same way my parents answered similar questions, so I was able to infer their status.

“I need to be a voice for those who are at greater risk. We need to ensure that students in school today have the same opportunities I do.”

An educator who made a difference

I didn’t really know English when I got here. My parents even drilled into me the bus route — where to get on, get off and so on — because I wouldn’t be able to communicate if there was a problem. But my first grade teacher Miss Keaveney was amazing. She constantly worked with me to make sure I understood everything. She was fantastic in getting me to fluency.

Aspiring to teach, becoming an advocate

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 3. I understood some of the implications of being undocumented, and I saw doing well in school as a way to get into college. The end goal was to be a teacher, and to do that I needed to go to college.

I was always a quiet advocate for immigrant rights, but it wasn’t until I got into college that I really became a loud social justice advocate and started working to make sure that kids like me who came later didn’t have to remain quiet about their status and constantly worry about [it].

In my last year at American River College (ARC) I had a campus job at the UndocuScholar Resource Connection. I helped other students with DACA applications, financial aid, in-state tuition, legal resources, applying to college.

The DACA effect

For the longest time I thought I couldn’t go to college. That’s a common misunderstanding in the undocumented community. But in California there’s legislation like AB 540 (2001) that allows in-state tuition at colleges and universities for undocumented students. So that was one hurdle I eventually realized I could overcome. But I still knew teachers have to have background checks, and that I would need a social security number, so I became more aware that there were still huge obstacles.

In June 2012 President Obama issued the DACA executive order. I remember crying because I realized: “I’m going to be able to work. I’m going to be able to teach. I’ll be able to work with kids and do the thing I’m really passionate about.” I was starting junior year of high school, and my whole future looked brighter.

The rescission in 2017 paused new applications, but I was able to renew a third time. Because I had been able to renew, I felt I needed to be a voice for those who were at greater risk.

Getting involved with Student CTA

One of my ARC professors, Julie Klier, had a deal where one of the textbooks we needed for her class cost $30 — the same as Student CTA membership — and if we joined Student CTA she would lend us the book for the semester. She also talked about the union and encouraged us to get involved in the on-campus club. I saw it as an opportunity to meet other people going into education who might have a social justice focus.

I went to my first statewide Student CTA event and was blown away. The Social Justice Symposium was amazing. Hearing [Tony Thurmond] speak was inspiring. I ran and was elected vice president in 2019, and in April I was elected president.

The Supreme Court’s DACA decision in June

I was getting a million texts from family and friends — I had gotten up early to hear the decision. I started crying again because I was so happy. And it was the same week as the [Supreme Court’s] LGBTQ+ decision, so it was a huge rush having those two decisions in the same week.

But I also realized the Trump administration could try again. That’s why the next election is so important. DACA allows those of us who qualify to work here; there are many people who don’t qualify and who deserve equal treatment. We need immigration reform. We need to ensure that students in elementary and high school today have the same opportunities I do. There’s so much that immigrants go through just to work and live safely that someone born here doesn’t even have to think about.

What are teachers supposed to tell their students — “You won’t be able to get a job”? “You’re going to have to leave”? This election is really make-orbreak for many immigrants.