By Torrie Hardcastle
The 2019 State of the Union was more than just a televised address for San Jacinto College paralegal student Devani Gonzalez. Gonzalez was invited by Texas Representative Sylvia R. Garcia to attend the event in the nation’s capital as the Congresswoman’s guest and to represent the many Dreamers who call Texas home.
As a graduate of San Jacinto College’s criminal justice program, Gonzalez has hopes of becoming a police officer, but her DACA status makes her ineligible to serve the community that she says has given her so much over the years. Unwilling to give up on her dream, she is continuing her education in San Jac’s paralegal program, while also substitute teaching, as she waits to see what the future has in store for her and her fellow DACA recipients. Her experience at the State of the Union is one that she hopes can help heighten the visibility of the plight of Dreamers and what it means to have to fight for your home.
What was your reaction when you were approached with this opportunity?
When I received the call from Cesar Espinosa, the Executive Director of FIEL Houston, I was instructed not to discuss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity until it became official. I was excited and nervous all at the same time! I was excited to have the honor of being Representative Garcia’s guest for the State of the Union, since she’s the first Latina woman in the state of Texas to hold such position. I was nervous, because not only was I representing myself, Houston Dreamers, my community of Galena Park City, Galena Park Independent School District, the Community Volunteer Fire Department, but also my fellow students of San Jacinto Community College.
Why was it important to you to accompany Congresswoman Garcia to the State of the Union?
It was important for me to accompany her in order to show people the real face of undocumented immigrants. My main goal has always been for people to see that Dreamers are no different from people born here in the United States. After all, we speak, look, and act like most Americans.
What was the biggest highlight of the experience for you?
The biggest highlight during my time in Washington D.C. was the reactions I would get from people when I would explain to them who I was and why I was there. These were people from different backgrounds, cultures, and age groups. Overall, the support was overwhelming! The most common reaction was a combination between confusion and anger, because they couldn’t believe that I was just like them, but with such limited opportunities due to my immigration status.
What do you hope your fellow students learn from your involvement?
I hope my fellow students learn from my experience and see that there’s always a better tomorrow. Four months ago I was leaving one of the darkest chapters in my life. I was starting from zero after being involved in a toxic relationship, while also having to understand why my best friend had committed suicide. Never in a million years would I have thought this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was going to be given to me, but I now understand that everything happens for a reason. Tough times don’t last, tough people do!
How has San Jac helped prepare you personally and professionally for an opportunity like this?
San Jac helped me prepare by having such great professors. My number one supporter since my first semester at San Jac has been my former criminal justice professor Brianne Crumpler. She has helped me recognize what my weaknesses are as a woman and how to turn them into strengths. Dr. Durell Dickens, the department chair of industrial technology who is also a former criminal justice professor of mine, has been an inspiration when it comes to my career and educational goals. Lastly, Professor Jeanette Liberty from the paralegal program motivates me to follow my dreams by showing me how happy a person can be when they do what they love. I get motivated by her being so exciting during her lectures. I could keep on going and going, naming many more professors, because everyone at San Jac has their students’ best interests at heart.
Any final takeaways you’d like to share?
I may not have been born here, but this country raised me. I share the same goals and ideas as my fellow students. We Dreamers did not come here to take from this country. We came to be a part of it. We came to contribute our unique gifts. We are prepared to give back to the communities that invested in us, we’re just fighting for the chance to do so.