Undocumented and unafraid


Karen Patron, student trustee, is an undocumented student at Cerritos College. Patron is apart of the DREAM club, a club for undocumented students that helps them succeed. Photo credit: David Jenkins

David Jenkins

Here at Cerritos College, there is a strong embracement of diversity, not just in ideas but in people. There is a wide range of people with multi-ethnic background and multi-racial as well.

There is however, one set of students that stand out, the DREAM club. A club comprised of a group of students who lack citizenship and attend Cerritos College.

One of these individuals who is apart of the DREAM club is Student Trustee Karen F. Patron.

Patron was born in in the capital of Baja California, Mexicaliand came to the United States as a child. She attended Lakewood high school and upon graduating began to attend Cerritos College.

Patron speaks of her childhood here in the U.S, she says that she was very open about being undocumented as a child.

Proud and Unafraid

“I always knew that I was undocumented and as a kid I was never afraid to tell anybody, and my mom being a Hispanic she would say; ‘you can’t tell anybody, if you tell them they’re going to deport us.’ And my thing is that I was never shy about it. To me it was always like ‘yeah! My parents are immigrants!’

“It was like an epic story, my mom came here through a visa with me and my dad crossed the borders with Los Coyotes, who are known to pass people through the borders. So to me it was like ‘Yeah! My dad did this, he jumped the border.’ As a kid it was like ‘Holy shit!’ So as a kid I was never shy about it and as a student I always got along with people, so people never judged me in a sense. We were all Hispanics where I went to school,” she said.

The confidence always seemed to reign in Patron’s life, this can be seen in the leadership role which she has obtained at Cerritos College.

Campus Senator, Victor Villaobos, who is a colleague of Patron’s and an ally towards the DREAM club also speaks of the confidence that comes from Patron.

“What attracted me to Karen or what I found in her that might be a good fit to part of student government as Trustee, when I asked her if she wanted to run, [it] was just her confidence and who she was [and] the way she spoke.

“I didn’t know her and just speaking to her at one of the nights at the conference I realized that she was someone who knew what she wanted. She knew that there was a way to get it or find a way to get it. She was also for the people around her, the DREAMERS and the whole student body. I saw someone who was confident and wanting to help those around her,” he stated.

Villaobos has known Patron for about a year now. He met her at an ASCC leadership conference.

Although, Patron was and is a confident individual there were times in high school when reality began to sink in about life after high school.

How Life Will Look After High School

“I think it was in high school when it was an overwhelming feeling that ‘Holy shit! I’m undocumented and there’s no going back.’ Knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to go to college, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to qualify for financial aid… because I wasn’t under the DACA, I was just a student who was undocumented,” she expressed.

Patron explained that she was worried about being under the DACA out of fear that something would happen to her. She was skeptical at first about getting guaranteed Social Security and didn’t sign up until she was 17-years of age. She says that it was the questions that her friends asked her that got her motivated to apply and try to get into college.

“It was really hard because all my family and friends were all like ‘O Karen, I’m going to this college, what college are you going to? Did you already apply? Why aren’t you doing anything Patron? You’re smart. You got the knowledge, you’re involved in all these clubs and you’re not going to college?’ And I was like ‘it’s not really an option for me.’

When Patron applied she got accepted into a few colleges, however the process was not easy. There was a distinction between her process and that of her friends. Being undocumented and her parents knowing very little of the system, she had to fend for herself in planing out her access to school and everything that came with it.

“I did apply and I got accepted to Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, Dominguez, some out-of-state colleges that were looking for me, but I didn’t feel comfortable going there, and then there was community college and I said; ‘Mom! This is what I want’ and she said ‘whatever you choose I’m going to support you.’

Navigating the College System

So, my parents weren’t there to guide me through the process of ‘this is where you go and this is what you do’. All my families’ friends were like ‘my parents told me to do this and I got to file this.’ My parents were not involved in the process of choosing college and asking those questions for me, so I had to single myself out and say; ‘ok who do I go to because I’m undocumented, I know I follow a different rule, who do I go to.’ It was very nerve wrecking and at the same time I told myself that I had to do it I have no other choice,” she said.

Patron goes on to say that the reason she chose community college over Cal State was because she wanted to test out the waters first. Being an undocumented student she felt that Cal State would be like getting thrown into an ocean without first learning how to swim. And it was though the Dream Act that Patron was able to do want she wanted for her education.

She also talked about the process of getting a citizenship and how costly it would be and very time consuming. The other option that she expressed was marriage, but according to her religious beliefs as a Catholic, marriage is sacred and not something to be treated as personal gain. However, due to the 2016 election results a change of heart might be taking place.

Presidential Elect Blues

“Because of the elections I’ve been considering it[marriage] a lot more, because this guy [Donald Trump] can say;’deport’ and we can say no, but he won the election and we were saying no in the beginning. Who knows what he can do to deport us all”

On the night of November 8, Patron went to bed upset and fearful of her own well-being knowing that the next president of the United States will be Donald Trump.

On the phone with her that night was double major in business and communication, Jorge Ramos. He spoke about both the night of and the next day.

“I was talking to Karen as it was happening and she was expressing to me her distrust[…] and I was trying to console her, but I’m more of a pragmatic person and I kind of [knew] that Trump was going to take the presidency. So, he took the presidency and we spoke the day after and she was very worried so as a friend I tried to calm her down and told her ‘look, […] Trump is just another politician, and politicians make these super huge loaded promises that they can’t guarantee at the end of the day for the sake of winning.’ And i was just trying to put her mind at ease by saying things like that.”

Patron was working on a 7 and a half page assignment on election night. With her mind busy with the incoming results, she found it difficult to write. She remembers sitting on the couch frustrated as the electoral college numbers changed.

“I was literally ready to punch a wall, I almost cried out of anger […] in my head I said; ‘what I’m I going to do? They can take away DACA, my social security is gone, my two jobs that finically support my family is gone, the money that I get from college is gone.'[…] It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the worst feeling in the world, I just felt so disappointed in the country, felt so disappointed in the people. And that was me that night. I was trying to process everything, people were calling me. I had family members, I had friends, friends from Berkley calling me and asking me; ‘are you ok?”

Supporting Patron

She had a very good support system that night, who continue to support her daily. Many of her friends spoke of themselves being an ally not just for Karen Patron, but every other undocumented student at Cerritos College.

As many of her friends define her as selfless and caring for those around her, those very same people care for her right back. Through her confidence and her yearning to help her peers, she and her friends will fight against any sort of trouble that comes their way.

Colleague of Patrons, Justin Illescas put it simply, “There is no shame in being an ally for undocumented students. No matter if we are undocumented or documented we are still humans. And most of American rights are basic human rights.”