Kevin Vázquez and Brandon Reyes are young Catholic “Dreamers” who came to the United States as children and today are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Kevin was born in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“I was 8 years old when we came to the United States. We were searching for a better life with more opportunities. My father was 23 years old and he had three children. It was admirable to see all of the sacrifices that my parents made and I do not want them to be in vain.”
Brandon’s story begins in a town in the state of Veracruz called Colipas, near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
“My mom brought me to the United States when I was 6 years old in September of 2003. She was about 23 or 24 years old, as a single mother. First, we arrived in Dallas, Texas, then we went to Chicago, until we finally came to Grand Rapids, where one of my mom’s sisters lives.”
Brandon points out that in the spring of 2006 there were massive marches in various cities across the country asking for immigration reform that could help nearly 11 million undocumented people. Brandon remembers participating alongside his mother as a boy.
“A lot of the kids that participated during that time participated with their families – today they are DACA recipients. This memory has, for a lot of us, formed us in social justice in the fight for the rights of immigrants.”
For Kevin, social activism was kindled by the fact that his family had sacrificed so much to come to this country.
“I concentrate a lot on my education, to help improve my current reality, that of my family and others. I spent about eight years in community college, going to school part time until finally I was able to transfer to Western Michigan University. For me, it has been a huge sacrifice to get to where I am. I would not want others to go through the same thing as me, of not being able to find help, which is why I want to attain higher education and, in that way, help other students. A lot of us were not able to receive financial scholarships but I want others to have these opportunities. Education is a benefit that everyone should have access to.”
Both are “Dreamers” and that has caused them to unite in the fight for the rights of immigrants protected under the DACA program.
“With all that is happening with immigration I have seen that youth have become involved in politics,” says Kevin. “It is important to talk about both groups: the youth that are undocumented and those that are documented. DACA students need to be more careful when they speak in public because it is a risk not only to the individuals but to the families. This provokes fear, however, we cannot live our whole lives based on fear, because in this fight it is about taking action and personal responsibility for our future.
“Here there are two paths: We either live in the shadows or we build a better today, a better tomorrow. We might feel as if we do not have a voice, for example in voting or other things that can influence or impact the community, but we have a voice, we have an option,” says Kevin.
Kevin and Brandon urge U.S. citizens who have a right to vote to help them in the fight.
“Your vote can influence our political and community representatives and leaders – so that they can push for change in our broken immigration system,” says Kevin.
The second call to action is for parents, especially those that already have documents.
“We need your help because we see a lot of indifference in a lot of them that don’t see the urgency and need. We need to get informed about politics and how to use their vote in favor of the community. It is good that youth are taking action but adults need to do their part in collaborating to benefit their people.”
Both are Catholic youth. Brandon belongs to the Shrine of St. Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Guadalupe in
Grand Rapids and Kevin belongs to St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Wyoming.
“I am very involved in the Church,” says Brandon. “I try to participate in retreats for youth. There are families that are not active in the Church, that do not practice their faith. Therefore their children also start to lose their faith. Without it there is no motivation to continue, to fight. That is the key. Faith is what motivates us and keeps us away from darkness we sometimes feel.”
One testimony that Kevin shared is about his parents, who, when he was very young, taught him how to pray in a very simple way for others and for strength. “Don’t pray for your car, your job, the television or for life’s difficulties. Life is going to be hard. You should ask God instead for strength.”
This is something that he still practices.
“When I have a bad day, especially with the pressure that we have today with immigration, I ask God for strength because this is what I need to get through everything.”
Both Brandon and Kevin see the Church as being committed to talking about issues that affect the community, raising consciousness of the reality facing Dreamers and other immigrants. Brandon shares that Father José Luis Quintana, pastor of St. Francis Xavier, spoke to the community about the immigration problem. He said, “Brothers and sisters, there is a crisis now” and invited all the youth that benefit from the DACA program to stand up.
Neither Kevin nor Brandon consider themselves leaders of the community. They consider themselves mentors who have been able to articulate their experiences so that others can learn from them, especially the experiences that have marked them and have helped them to be better. “If I can do it, they can do it to and this makes a difference,” says Kevin.
This carries over into their involvement in the Church. “We need to make the Church a warm and welcoming space,” says Kevin. “No matter what the reality of the person is, we are here to help you in any way possible.”