In a small town in deep East Texas, just 20 minutes from the Louisiana border, Tania Hernandez Castillo grew up with her parents and three siblings. Early on in life, she was inspired by an educator.
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“My seventh-grade science teacher, Mrs. Caldwell, was one of the first educators to look through my rough exterior and see my heart flaming with passion for success,” said Hernandez Castillo. “Mrs. Caldwell inspired me to become an educator so that I, like she did with me, could bring out the best in someone who thought they had nothing to offer to the class or community.”
There was just one thing standing in the way of her dream.
“My teacher, to this day, does not know I am illegal. Not because I have ever denied the fact, it’s just not something you talk about in a small town. I have no doubt she would accept me as I am, today and back then.”
Hernandez Castillo earned a degree in elementary education in May and is an activist for millions of DREAMers like her. She submitted her story to Education Votes and was selected to attend the All In for Citizenship rally in Washington, D.C., to show her support for commonsense immigration reform.
“I came to represent myself, my family and other DREAMers in my same situation. It’s amazing seeing more people actually support and be enthusiastic about this potential change that may happen.”
As an aspiring American, she has struggled to achieve her dream of becoming an educator. Thanks to inspiration from her teachers and her family, Hernandez Castillo graduated high school as salutatorian and received a full scholarship to a Texas university where she first encountered trouble.
“It was at this university that I would slowly give up on everything I wanted for myself. As an education major, one must submit themselves for various background checks. Needless to say, I was unable to submit mine because I had no driver’s license or Social Security number.”
Her school adviser told her she had to change her major if she wanted to continue attending school.
“I fell into a deep depression and started to think I was stupid for thinking someone like me, an undocumented girl, could ever make a difference.”
But she didn’t take the news lying down. Instead, she went directly to the dean of her department and fought to change the policy at her school. She was able to continue in the program and graduated Cum Laude last May.
Now that she’s closer to achieving her dream, she is continuing the fight for others like her.
“Since I’m a future educator, this isn’t just for me. I want to help students to believe that they can do whatever they set their mind to, like my teachers did for me. People deserve to contribute to a country that they love.
“The American Dream everyone talks about is not a picturesque story where everything goes right when you need it to. It is not someone working harder than anyone else and getting what you think you deserve. For me, the American Dream is just that, a dream. I know I will keep waking up to reality, and I don’t mind working hard every day to earn what I think I deserve.”