Tania Crescencio is an alumni of YMCA of Middle Tennessee’s Latino Achievers program (YLA). The program inspires and empowers Latinx students to discover their strengths, shape their futures, and transform the world. She is currently a 20-year-old college student, an activist, and a DREAMer. (The term DREAMer takes its name from the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act.)
This summer, Nichole Davari, the director of YLA, interviewed Tania about her experience as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient. Tania’s story and experience with YLA and the Justice for Our Neighbors organization highlights the role of community organizations in making Middle Tennessee a place that welcomes all.
As our Zoom meeting began, Tania's beautiful sonrisa (smile) brightened my screen. We exchanged saludos (greetings), and I asked her to share her story.
“I came to the United States when I was eight months old, in a guitar case,” she said, “which is so funny because that’s become such an important part of my life as a creative now.” The humor was not lost on me as we were both in Nashville, America’s Music City, for this conversation.
“I have been here all my life in Tennessee, but I never knew I was undocumented until my freshman year of high school. Which felt too late because I had already dreamed of going to a huge university. I even did research projects in middle school about where I wanted to go,” Tania said.
She learned from her parents that the reason they raised her so strictly and that they kept a low public profile was to guard against the real possibility of deportation. “I knew my parents were immigrants because I heard them always talking about needing papeles — ‘un dia vamos agarrar los papeles [one day we will get our papers]’ — but I didn’t know what the papeles were. So as a kid I’d be like ‘all I want are papeles’ and my teachers would be so confused. I wish I had known sooner what that meant.”
As Tania grew older, she began to understand that her journey into adulthood in the U.S. would be harder than it was for many. “But now I’m a rising senior in college! I remember that in my senior year of high school I would cry almost every day because I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to go to college. I would cry to my parents, ‘Why did you bring me to this country? Why would you do this to me?’ I blamed my parents for wanting better for me. Now I’m finally getting that they did this truly for me to have a better future.”
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was created through an executive order in 2012. “I remembered my parents yelling with happiness [about DACA]. My birthday was near and my dad turned to me and said, ‘For your birthday, this is what I’m going to get you.’ It was a birthday present to me to feel a sense of freedom.”
Later with the threat of DACA being revoked, Tania had to prepare for the worst. “There were some days I just couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know what was in store for me or for my friends.” She said that the months leading up to the Supreme Court decision felt long. She felt like she could lose everything at any second.
Over the years, Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) has represented more than 1,400 DACA clients. Tania finds that she continually must educate people about DACA. “Even at the college I go to now, I had to educate them — unlike my friends, who could just pull up and apply to become a student.” The burden to educate others should not fall solely on the shoulders of young immigrants. This is one reason why TNJFON created its podcast, “Oye Vecino” (“Hey, Neighbor”). You can listen to episode four to learn more about the July 29th DACA ruling.
Tania’s life is evidence that DACA is worthy of investment. It is evidence that organizations like TNJFON are worth supporting. At the end of our time together I asked Tania what one thing she would want our listeners to know. She responded, “My generation is the future. There are so many wonderful and talented individuals that are just waiting for a chance. They have so much to give to our community.”
During Welcoming Week 2020, the YMCA is proud to recognize JFON as an incredible example of a welcoming organization. It provides accessible, high-quality immigration legal services to immigrants, advocates for immigrant rights, and educates the public and faith-based communities about issues related to immigration. Learn more about JFON’s amazing work and find ways you can help make Middle Tennessee a more welcoming place.
YMCA Latino Achievers uses evidence-based strategies to increase high school graduation, college application, and enrollment rates for Latino youth. Learn more here.