A DACA Dreamer Dreams—and Learns—During Life’s Toughest Moments

In response to efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Pearson published the video story of Ricardo—a young man who had obtained a college degree through the program and who had worked with the company to improve its learning tools.

What follows is the rest of Ricardo’s story who is now an advocate for immigrant rights. What has he learned from the last few weeks? And what is he teaching the next generation of Dreamers?

“Education is what brings change. By engaging people through learning—that’s when true reform happens.”

A Long Journey

Ricardo Lujan Valerio says he learned the most important lesson of his life when he was 9 years old.

He was held captive in a stranger’s basement after just crossing illegally into the United States. He’d been separated from his family.

After four days, Ricardo says he was about to give up.

“Then I looked in the mirror,” Ricardo says, “and told myself ‘You’re gonna be ok.'”

“I’d just realized that the world is not perfect, that the world is not safe,” he says, “but I also realized that I would be ok.”

A week later, Ricardo was reunited with his father—and began a journey that took him to the center of recent debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“When I heard the announcement about DACA, I remembered that a 9-year-old once overcame a horrible circumstance,” Ricardo says.

“If a 9-year-old can get through that, then I can continue to fight for my community,” he says.

Ricardo during a trip to Washington, D.C.

Amplifying Stories

There have been a lot of lessons learned for Ricardo over the last few days.

“So many people have encouraged me to keep telling my story, because they feel it’s also telling their story,” he says.

Ricardo says recent debate over DACA and the so-called Dreamers enrolled in the program has allowed politics to get in the way of real stories.

“There’s this thinking that all Dreamers are valedictorians and model students,” he says. “As people have been in touch with me, it has become clearer and clearer that so many of these Dreamers are simply struggling with getting through school, finding a normal job, getting a degree—just living.”

“This is the story that I know so well,” he says. “I’m an advocate for everybody.”

College, Then a Choice

After Ricardo graduated from Southern Oregon University with honors and a degree in business administration, he had two choices:

He had an offer to work for the Oregon Department of Justice.

There was also an offer to be the Legislative Director of the Oregon Student Association, a group that’s been pushing for access to higher education since 1975.

“My own access to education was such a privilege,” Ricardo says—so he chose the second option, to get involved in statewide work that, he says, “actually protects people in my community.”

The Opposition

Work for the Oregon Student Association means face-to-face conversations with elected officials who oppose Ricardo’s views.

“They don’t believe I deserve a chance,” he says, “so I try to be as approachable as possible.”

“It can be discouraging when they shrug me off,” Ricardo says, “but that’s what fuels me.”

“I know the reality of the the lives of the people who are so scared right now,” he says. “If I can sit down with these critics and help them see my life, then maybe I can help them reconsider their opinions.”

During one public appearance, Ricardo testified on behalf of immigrant rights while opposition groups did the same.

“One woman came up to me after the hearing,” he says, “took off the opposition pin she was wearing, and shook my hand.”

Ricardo says she told him she was proud he was standing up for his community.

“Education is what brings change in this country,” he says. “By engaging people through learning—that’s when true reform happens.”

“We’re not going back to the shadows,” Ricardo says. “We’ve already lived a reality without this program,” he says, “and we can do it again.”

No ‘Return to Shame’

“We’re not going back to the shadows,” Ricardo says.

“We’ve already lived a reality without this program,” he says, “and we can do it again.”

Ricardo says the fight is never over.

“Going back to the shadows means being ashamed of your skin color, being ashamed of your accent or your family,” he says. “We can’t go back on what we’ve tried to hard to build.”

An Emotional Toll

Recent events, Ricardo says, have not just been tense—but they’re taking a toll on people’s well being.

“We have such a close community, and we’re so resilient,” he says. “Still, this controversy drags down the mental state of our community.”

“People need to know they have resources—not just to access education—but to get through this,” he says.

Pushing Because He Was Pushed

Ricardo himself has benefitted from people reaching out over the years.

An English teacher at Oregon State University, Alma Rosa Alvarez, helped him navigate what he calls “bumps” during college.

“I was paying out-of-state tuition because I wasn’t considered a resident,” Ricardo says. “I never stopped working full time because I needed the money, and I felt guilt that I was stressing simply over school while my family stressed about so much else.”

“She shared her own experiences as a young woman,” Ricardo says of Alma Rosa. “And she pushed and pushed and pushed me to get through college.”

He did—and now turns his passion to others in the same position.

“I had no idea what to do after I graduated from high school, what you do or should not do as an undocumented immigrant,” Ricardo says. “It’s so important that today’s young people are not in that same limbo.”

“I want to help prepare the next era of Dreamers,” he says.