By Eliott Flores – Student, YES Prep Brays Oaks
Our lives can be marked by a single moment that acts as a catalyst, changing the course of our life and the perspective of our surroundings. I had my ‘aha’ moment when I was fifteen. When I learned I was not a legal resident, I withdrew into myself. I began questioning whether everything I had done up to that time was morally correct, and if what I had done in my life had any meaning.
Visiting Mexico for the first time in fifteen years
My family emigrated to the United States, looking for a better life, when I was two years old. When I obtained DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), I was able to apply for “Advance Parole,” a permit that enables you to travel outside the country for education, humanitarian, or business reasons. In December 2015, I had the opportunity to travel back to Mexico to visit family I had not known anything about for thirteen years. I met my grandparents, uncles, cousins, and many other people. My visit also showed me what Mexico was really like, and although it was my original home, I also realized that the United States was more home than Mexico would ever be.
Going back to Mexico also gave me the opportunity to meet my grandfather, who is one of the reasons I decided to go into activism. He was a great man I had always heard about. He fought for labor unions and workers’ rights. My visit to Mexico opened my eyes. I realized that even though I had very little privileges, due to my undocumented status, I was still very fortunate to be eligible for DACA, unlike many other immigrants. I came back from my trip with purpose and ready to make a change.
From helpless to activist
The need to help others is something that has been instilled in me since I was a child. The older I got, the more apparent it was that it is one of my strongest drives and what truly makes me happy. I pondered about what I could do to try and make a change, to assist other people, like myself, who don’t have the same opportunities as citizens do: able to visit family in another country, work and have an identity, apply for scholarships, and so on.
That’s when I discovered FIEL (Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle), an activist organization. They welcomed me and encouraged me. Here I discovered that my voice is important and people will listen to what I have to say. I learned I can inspire others through my words and with my story.
I began to speak at public events and rallies. I spoke at Houston’s City Hall, in front of the Mayor and other politicians. I also spoke in front of congressmen and other community leaders. Whenever there’s an issue related to immigration, guns, or something else I feel passionate about, I am always there to speak out and try to encourage others to join the struggle and create change.
Amplifying my voice through media
Soon people began to know who I am and I was being interviewed by every local news channel, in what seemed like every other day. FOX News, Univision, Telemundo, the Houston Chronicle, and the BBC where among those media I gave interviews to. When it actually hit me, of how important my story was and the impact it was having, was when ABC National News contacted me and published my story.
This is also when I realized how much hatred there was towards our plight. I was appalled by how many negative comments and ideas I witnessed during all of these events, but it was balanced out by people joining our cause and also using their voice. This is what I had set out to do: to show others that their participation is important, showing them that it is worth taking action in what you believe in, and that it is worth putting up a fight for what is right.
Fully embracing my role as a leader
Back at school, aside from doing well academically, I also excelled in sports, having led various sports teams and even being named “Athlete of the Year.” But I began to feel the need to help my immediate community as well. I took everything I had experienced -the joy of creating change and empowering others, the duty of serving as a role model to other DACA recipients, and the realization that my voice is powerful- and used it to start a FIEL chapter at my school.
Over 40 students from my junior class joined, as did several other students from other grade levels. Soon, they began to become more active in the community, like me. We called congressmen to pass a clean DREAM Act and protect DACA/TPS (Temporary Protective Status). We went to several rallies and spoke out in defense of immigrants. We joined political campaigns and participated in many other civic engagement opportunities.
These successes have made me feel empowered. I feel like now I have something else that sets me apart, I have found my voice and know that I’m born to be a leader. I feel confident that I can face and overcome the obstacles standing in my way and am determined to grow as an individual and move forward.
A year after that ‘aha’ moment
Thanks to these experiences, I have decided that once I graduate from YES Prep, I will be getting a double major in Neuroscience and Political Science. My need to help people is something I understand now more than ever, and I would love to continue to do so through the medical field and being involved in politics. While it is a considerable goal, I know I can do it.
I have come a long way since my ‘aha’ moment, from when I first received DACA. While I learned that I was different from many of my friends, who are U.S. citizens and residents, I also learned that even though I’ll have to fight much harder to forge my own future, I am capable of closing the gap between those who have more opportunities than I do.
Several people look up to me: students, teachers, and others who are in a similar situation like me. I want to prove to them, and to myself, that I’m a fighter. And I finally understand what my purpose is, to use my talents to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
Eliott Flores is a student at YES Prep Brays Oaks, Class of 2019. He plans to get a double major in Neuroscience and Political Science. Originally from Mexico, but raised in Houston, Texas since the age of two, Flores is a current DACA recipient, an experience that thrust him into activism. Last year, Flores opened a local chapter of FIEL, a grassroots activism organization, at his high school campus with the goal to empower fellow classmates and keep them informed about laws and current events.