Morales and her father were quite close before he was deported when she was three years old. Dominique Morales | Courtesy Photo

When President Trump made headlines at the beginning of September with his move to repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Cal Poly administration immediately voiced support for “Dreamers” on campus.

“We at Cal Poly remain absolutely committed to our DACA students, faculty and staff who make our university a rich and vibrant community,” President Jeffrey Armstrong wrote in his campuswide email Sept. 5.

While it is one thing to garner support from administration and faculty, hearing words of compassion and commonality from peers can bring a deeper sense of comfort to DACA recipients.

After attending undocumented journalist Jose Vargas’ talk at Cal Poly, journalism sophomore and daughter of an immigrant father Dominique Morales understood the power of lending a voice to students protected under DACA.

Like father, like daughter

Morales grew up in the Bay Area with her mother, a California native, and her father — an undocumented immigrant from central Mexico.

Memories of Morales’ childhood are dominated by those spent with her father, who helped foster her adventurous spirit with outdoor experiences and watching Fear Factor.

“When I was little, he and I would go camping — even in the backyard,” Morales said. “One time I really wanted to go camping, but it was far away and we had somewhere to be in the morning, so he just set up a tent for me in the back.”

According to Morales, her father would also participate in the more “girly activities,” like making cookies.

“He was my best friend,” Morales said.

Living as a separated family

As chances of her father’s deportation loomed, her family lived in Mexico for a year as a trial run. However, Morales’ mother longed to return to their home in California.

When Morales was about three or four years old, her father was uprooted from her life and deported back to Mexico.

“He told me he was going away for a really long time, that he might not see me again and I might get a new Dad,” Morales said.

At the time, Morales didn’t understand what was happening; it wasn’t until she was 10 years old that her father’s absence was fully explained to her.

By that point, she had lost contact with him.

“For the first three years, we would send each other letters, and talk on the phone,” Morales said. The distance between them and her father’s move to a different area in Mexico, however, resulted in an eventual end to correspondence.

Creating a strong familial bond

Despite his absence, Morales’ father’s influence on her family in California persisted. Her uncles and aunts stepped in as parental figures, giving Morales a deep appreciation for family.

“They’ve all looked out for me because of what they felt for him, which I think is very sweet,” Morales said. “That meant a lot to me, those shared bonds that end up influencing your life.”

Consequently, Morales says she never felt a sense of emptiness thanks to her family’s efforts to fill the hole her father left.

Searching for her father

Morales’ mother has offered to hire someone to investigate Morales’ father’s whereabouts, but Morales  paused that pursuit for the time being.

“I’ve held off because I’m very emotionally driven, so I don’t want to be unfocused when I need to be focusing on school and my grades,” Morales said.

She hopes to be able to use her passion for journalism and its way of connecting with people to one day be able to reunite with her father and the siblings she has never met.

“I’m really inspired by other journalists who go out and find where they’re from, or they’re undocumented and they connect with their family,” Morales said.

Being a voice for others

Though not an undocumented student herself, Morales feels for immigrants working to forge a better life in America, and for those who have been suddenly separated from their families.

Moreover, labelling people as illegal aliens, Morales says, is disheartening.

“[By calling them aliens] you actually start alienating them and you don’t see them as a human, you see them as a thing,” Morales said.

Coming forward with her story and personal connection to undocumented immigrants, Morales feels obligated to speak for DACA students. Given the prevailing legal threats toward DACA recipients, Morales knows it is understandable that they are hesitant to share their personal stories.

While San Luis Obispo has made strides to be inclusive and supportive of students protected under DACA, Morales notes that getting rid of the disconnect with the community and actually getting to know these students is crucial to truly making them feel safe and at home.

“Everyone can help, and if you don’t know how, just ask,” Morales said.

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