Jim Hinch

California Dreamers

mlheco-b781096851z.120130418193915000gib1di606.3I report in the Orange County Register on Terrence Park, a student at U.C. Berkeley who is president of the university’s math club, on his way to graduate school at Harvard — and in the United States illegally. Park is one of at least 220 undocumented immigrants studying at U.C. Berkeley, America’s premiere public university. Life is hard for these kids, as Terrence’s story amply demonstrates. An in-depth look at the human cost of America’s divisive, dysfunctional immigration system. Here’s the story in full:

Brilliance Documented

Terrence Park is a top math student at UC Berkeley. He’s on his way to grad school at Harvard. And he’s in the country illegally.

By JIM HINCH / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

April 21, 2013

Terrence Park was filling out his college financial aid application when he asked his mother a question and learned he was breaking the law.

“What’s my Social Security number?”

Park’s mother didn’t answer. She motioned her son onto the sofa in the living room of the family’s one-bedroom apartment in Tustin. “She was very upset, but she didn’t cry,” Park remembers.

“You don’t have a Social Security number,” Park’s mother told him. “You’re not American. You’re Korean.”

Park sat in stunned silence as his mother told the story. How, following her divorce from Park’s father in Seoul, she left for America with her 10-year-old son and his 8-year-old twin sisters, Emily and Carrie. How an incompetent immigration lawyer misfiled the family’s papers. How, a few months after arriving in America, Park’s family became immigrants who are here illegally.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Park demanded. For years he’d assumed he was a legal immigrant on his way to becoming a citizen. He thought he was no different from the nearly 1,000 other Asian American students at Northwood High School in Irvine, where he graduated in 2008.

He spoke passable Korean but his English was better. He lived on fast food, wore flip-flops, played video games. “I’m more American than Korean,” he said.

“Is this going to be a huge problem for my college?” Park asked his mom.

“Keep studying,” was all she answered.

That was five years ago.

Today, Park is a graduating senior at UC Berkeley. He’s the president of the university’s math club. He has a 3.8 GPA. He was accepted to graduate programs in public health at Yale, Brown, Columbia and Harvard universities. He expects to enroll next year at Harvard, which offered him a $22,000 scholarship.

And he’s still here illegally.

NEW RULES, OLD RULES

On Wednesday, eight U.S. senators unveiled an 844-page proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. If enacted, the legislation would tighten border security, increase the number of foreign workers allowed into the country and provide a path to citizenship for most of the nation’s estimated 11 million people here illegally.

As debate over the proposal begins in Washington, the story of Terrence Park, unfolding thousands of miles away in California, illustrates the complexity – and the often unseen human dimension – of one of America’s most divisive political issues.

Park’s enrollment at UC Berkeley, and what he’ll bring to California if he follows his planned career of providing public health services to the state’s rapidly growing Asian population, is the result of California’s own protracted debate over immigration.

Like many immigrants – and other students – Park and his family endured years of low-wage work and material sacrifice to finance their educations.

But the Parks also benefited from several path-breaking and contentious initiatives in California, including laws enabling immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities and a concerted outreach to UC Berkeley students here illegally.

UC Berkeley’s outgoing chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, has been a vocal advocate for students here illegally, drawing ire from politicians and others opposed to providing taxpayer-financed services.

Through it all, Park, his mother and his sisters – who are also UC Berkeley undergraduates – have displayed what Birgeneau, in an interview with the Orange County Register, called the prime reason for welcoming immigrants to UC Berkeley.

“Talent,” Birgeneau said. “California needs every competitive person it has. We can’t afford to waste our talent.”

Park was accepted at UC Berkeley on academic merit alone. State law prohibits the university from using affirmative action in admissions decisions, and applicants are not asked to divulge their immigration status.

A FAMILY EFFORT

Yet despite the university’s efforts to assist students here illegally once they arrive, including provision of a full-time counselor dedicated to clearing legal, financial and academic hurdles, Park’s path to graduation has been anything but straightforward.

Once he realized he was ineligible for financial aid, and therefore couldn’t come close to affording the roughly $30,000 a year it costs to attend a UC school, Park dropped plans to attend a four-year university after high school.

His mother (who declined to give her name to the Register, citing fears of deportation) had brought her children from Korea to Orange County expressly to enroll them in Irvine schools. She’d found a sliver of Tustin, where rents are cheaper, within Irvine Unified School District boundaries.

Park and his sisters got the education their mother envisioned. But after years working as a janitor, dishwasher, cashier and baby sitter, his mother had not managed to save enough to pay for college.

In Korea, she’d been a college-educated schoolteacher until becoming a stay-at-home mom when Park was born. Following the divorce, Park’s father did not support the family financially, as is common in South Korea.

So Park enrolled at Irvine Valley College, got a job at an automated laundry and spent whatever spare time he had tutoring high school students in math.

He and his mother pooled their income and saved enough to pay one year’s tuition for Carrie and Emily when they were accepted at UC Berkeley.

Park graduated from Irvine Valley in 2010. He applied to UC Berkeley as a transfer student. When he was accepted, he and his mother moved north and, together with his sisters, rented a one-bedroom apartment two blocks from campus.

Park slept in a bedroom overlooking a parking lot, on a mattress beside a refrigerator, an ironing board and racks of the girls’ clothes. His mother and sisters slept on mattresses in the living room.

Still, Park couldn’t afford tuition. He deferred his admission, and his sisters, who were majoring in molecular toxicology and nutritional science, temporarily dropped out of school. All four family members got jobs, Park as a tutor, his sisters at a supermarket, their mother cleaning houses.

By the start of the 2011 school year, the family had saved enough to pay for one semester for all three siblings. After that, they planned to drop out again and work to pay for another semester.

That October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act, which enabled immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as minors to receive state financial aid. The law, initially proposed in 2006 by former state Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, had been vetoed three times by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At last, Park and his sisters could afford to go to college full time.

“I’m privileged,” Park said. “There are (more than a) million students who can’t study like me because” of their immigration status. “It forces me to take responsibility.”

TYPICALLY EXCEPTIONAL

Outwardly, Park shows no obvious sign of being one of the so-called Dreamers – an estimated 1.4 million people here illegally brought to America while they were children. He seems like any other UC Berkeley math major.

A recent – and ordinary – day earlier this month found him treading a well-worn path from Evans Hall, headquarters of the university’s math department, to the library, home for a nap, then back to Evans, where for the third straight night he planned to shut himself inside a fluorescent-lit classroom with a few friends to study for an upcoming exam in Complex Analysis, the study of the “analytic functions of a complex variable.”

The study marathons, fueled by frozen burritos and one-hour sleep breaks, are common at UC Berkeley, where the math department ranks second highest in the nation, just behind Harvard’s.

Yet all-nighters are one of the few campus rituals Park shares with other UC Berkeley undergraduates.

Inwardly, his life is wholly shaped by his immigration status.

Lacking a valid visa, he was unable to fly on an airplane after arriving in America. And so he hasn’t seen his father for 13 years, or talked to him at all since he stopped calling about seven years ago.

Park has never been to a football game, never attended a beer-soaked party and only began driving this year, when he applied for and received a special legal exemption from deportation granted by President Barack Obama to young people here illegally who are enrolled in school or serving in the military.

“I thought I was going to enjoy it here a little bit,” Park said of UC Berkeley. “But I have no time to think about whether I enjoy it.”

In addition to classes, he continues to work two jobs, as a trigonometry tutor to a high school student in Oakland and as a paid intern at an Asian health clinic. Both jobs are a 40-minute bus ride from campus.

While other undergraduates explore their newfound freedom from home, Park returns each day to his family’s one-bedroom apartment, where the expectations placed on him as the oldest son of a Korean family are “huge,” he said. “The oldest has to be the model for everyone else.”

“I had a pretty good addiction to video games in high school,” he confessed. His mother “would have to quit a job to monitor me more. My sisters also monitored me. It was like having three moms.”

“When I found out (in high school) I can’t go to college, I just gave up. There’s no point in me studying.”

Park graduated from Northwood with a “3.4 or 3.5” GPA. He only began earning UC Berkeley-worthy grades at community college. When his UC Berkeley acceptance letter came, he walked to the 99 Ranch Market in Irvine where his mother worked handing out prepared food samples.

“She thought I was joking,” he said. “I had to tell her five times.”

And so now he works. “When you see Mom work two, three jobs and come home at 10 p.m. and still take care of all of us, that kind of motivates all of us,” he said.

A VIDEO STAR

In January, Meng So, UC Berkeley’s counselor for students here illegally, told Park that an advocacy group called The Dream is Now, a nonprofit backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, wanted to film a short promotional video highlighting students here illegally on campus.

Would Park be interested in starring in the video, So asked?

“I decided to do it,” Park said. Until that day, he’d told almost no one about his illegal status, though a few friends had guessed.

“It was an opportunity for me to actually contribute to the Dream Act movement,” Park said, referring to efforts to pass legislation enabling young people here illegally to progress toward citizenship.

For six hours, documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, whose credits include “Waiting for Superman,” filmed Park writing numbers on a chalkboard: how much it costs to deport one immigrant here illegally ($23,000) vs. the estimated economic benefit of millions of educated immigrant workers ($329 billion by 2030).

“So that’s $23,000 to deport me,” Park says to the camera.

The video, released in February, provoked a storm of international attention.

“It was pretty scary,” Park said. “But I got used to it at some point.”

There was no such attention at the end of Park’s recent midterm exam study marathon.

As evening fog rolled over the UC Berkeley campus, Park sat alone in lecture Room 11 in Evans Hall, at a gray-and-orange desk beside a chalkboard.

His black Dell laptop was open. He was too stressed to eat and, if he wasn’t, he was out of frozen burritos anyway.

He looked up from the computer and reflected on the gains and losses of life as an immigrant student here illegally.

“The fact that we had to stay together as a family for the past couple years, I’ve had less of an individual (college) experience,” he said.

“The positive side is you learn how to take care of other people. The negative side is I haven’t learned an individual approach to life. I still have to learn that.”

Undocumented students at Berkeley

HOW MANY: 220 students at UC Berkeley are illegal immigrants; total enrollment is 36,142.

HOW IT WORKS: Undocumented students do not receive preference in admissions. The university does not ask applicants to divulge immigration status. Once accepted, immigrants are allowed to apply for state financial aid. UC Berkeley becomes aware of students’ legal status when they apply for aid.

SCHOOLS: UC Berkeley is the first in the nation to provide services to undocumented students. Other universities have begun emulating UC Berkeley’s outreach, including UCLA and schools in Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Michigan.

MONEY: The average family income of undocumented students is $24,000. Total annual cost to attend UC Berkeley is $33,500.

GRADES: Average GPA of undocumented students is 3.3, versus 3.03 for other UC Berkeley students.

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The Future of (Asian-American) Christianity

grandmasterchu

I report in today’s Orange County Register on next-generation Asian-American churches in Southern California influencing the world. Goodbye, mono-lingual, hierarchical, tradition-minded immigrant churches. Hello, multi-ethnic, multi-media, service-oriented worship. Coming soon to your city, too.

Christians’ Demographic Cliff

 

In today’s Orange County Register:

As sanctuaries fill up for the holidays, forward-thinking church leaders are finding little to celebrate in a growing body of research that shows American Christianity at risk of losing an entire generation of young people, perhaps for good.

A record one-third of Americans under age 30 are now religiously unaffiliated, according to a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That’s up from one-quarter just four years ago. There are now more religiously unaffiliated Americans than white evangelical Protestants.

Sixteen percent of non-Christians under 30 say they have a “good impression” of Christianity, and a mere 3 percent feel that way about evangelical Christianity, according to the Barna Group, a Christian market research organization. As recently as the 1990s, a majority of non-Christians viewed Christianity favorably.

More potentially troubling to church leaders is that half of young Christians have negative views of their own faith, according to Barna.

“It’s the melting of the icebergs, but many people aren’t paying attention to it,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group.

more….

Swerve/Fanboy

Notre Dame Rose Window

 

Two new publications: Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong — And Why It Matters in the Los Angeles Review of Books. And Mogul of the Fanboys in the Orange County Register. The former has inspired much comment (e.g. here). Update: There are reports that this week the Modern Language Association awarded its James Russell Lowell Prize to Greenblatt’s The Swerve.

Little Saigon, Unbound

I report in this Sunday’s Orange County Register that O.C.’s Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam, has become an international beacon of Vietnamese culture and enterprise. Vietnamese enclaves, restaurants and businesses around the world have named themselves Little Saigon. Vietnamese expatriates look to Orange County for trends in music, food and commerce. Vietnamese pop music and television shows produced in Orange County are avidly consumed in Vietnam. Vietnamese-Americans have staged protests and hunger strikes to compel city officials to name their communities Little Saigon. “Little Saigon in Orange County is the granddaddy of Little Saigons,” says one longtime observer. “It’s sort of like the mecca.”

Walking Mural

Forty years ago four kids from East L.A. forever changed the course of Chicano art. I tell the story of the 1970s Chicano art collective Asco in the latest Los Angeles Review of Books. Glam rock movie stills, fake crime scenes, portable murals, dancing tanks–Asco’s art was avant-garde before there was a Chicano avant-garde. At last the group is getting its due with recent museum retrospectives (LACMA) and magazine covers (ArtForum). Asco’s legacy is complicated. The group invigorated an ethnic art movement at risk of creative inertia. But they were pied pipers, too, inspiring a new generation of young Chicano artists to pursue art world fame–not the political activism once considered Chicano art’s primary goal.

Teatro!

 

I write in the current issue of Image about El Teatro Campesino, America’s oldest and most revered Spanish-language theatre troupe. ETC is a beacon of integrity in an era of embattled arts institutions. Founded in 1965 during the United Farm Workers’ California grape boycott, the troupe remains headquartered in migrant farm worker country (San Juan Bautista, near the Salinas Valley) and stages a mix of avant-garde drama and traditional Mexican religious plays. Christmastime productions of La Virgin Del Tepeyac, the 500-year-old story of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s appearance to the Indian Juan Diego, are revelatory. ETC is a veteran organization but it represents an immigrant-rich America’s artistic future.

Abrazos

“Jesus says what’s on God’s mind: Your truth is my truth. You are exactly what God had in mind when God made you. You watch a person on the margins inhabit that truth and no bullet can touch it.”  Fr. Greg Boyle said those words a few days ago to an audience of more than 300 people at a Santa Clara University workshop I attended on mentoring troubled young people. Boyle is a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, America’s largest gang-prevention organization. Homeboy serves 15,000 gang members and former gang members per year, offering jobs (at a bakery, a silkscreening business, a cafe, a solar-panel installation company and other homespun enterprises), counseling, education, parenting classes and free laser tattoo removal. I met Boyle when I edited a story he told in Guideposts magazine last year. I visited Homeboy Industries then and later went back to write about a Homeboy success story, a former gang member-turned-artist named Fabian Debora. What strikes me about Boyle is that even as he has become famous–his memoir Tattoos on the Heart was a bestseller and he speaks around the country and appears on television–he remains grounded in the belief that there is no distance between the healer and the healed, between the priest and the gang member. Boyle’s aim is not just jobs or better lives for gang members. It’s persuading everyone, everywhere that the love of God is best expressed between people as kinship. “We’ve forgotten we belong to each other,” Boyle said at the mentoring workshop. “We have to move away from judgment that creates a high moral distance.”

Boyle told a story to illustrate this point. (He always tells stories. Every time I’ve heard him speak he devotes three-quarters of his talk to rambling, hilarious, piercing anecdotes about gang members.) The story was about a former gang member named Mario who came to work at Homeboy. Mario was a sweet, reedy kid with tattoos on every inch of his body except an oval around his eyes, nose and mouth. Boyle was invited to speak at his alma mater, Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. He took Mario and another homeboy with him, as he often does on trips, for company and to give gang members a chance to see other parts of the world. One thousand people came to the talk. At the end Boyle invited questions. A student stood up. “My question is for Mario,” she said. Mario, quaking, stepped to the podium. “You said when Fr. Boyle introduced you that you have a son and daughter about to become teenagers,” the student said. “My question is, what advice do you have for them as they head into adolescence?” Mario was quiet. “I want to tell them,” he choked, “I don’t want them to turn out like me.” He began crying. The student didn’t sit down. “Why don’t you want your kids to be like you?” she asked Mario. “You seem kind to me, and gentle and wise. I hope your kids do turn out to be like you.” Mario stared in astonishment. Then, as he buried his face in his hands to hide his tears, the entire audience rose to its feet and applauded. “Mario stands there with his face in his hands, reconciled to himself,” Boyle told the workshop audience. “He’s amazed at 1,000 people doing this for him. In that moment, in that room there was kinship.”

Bridge Builders*

I report in the Orange County Register today that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County and one of America’s most influential evangelical Christian leaders, has embarked on a first-in-the-nation attempt to heal divisions between Muslims and evangelicals. This follows other Warren-led efforts to change the face of evangelical Christianity, including outreach to AIDS victims and prioritizing international relief work over proselytizing. I’ll be taking a closer look at Warren’s effect on American evangelicalism, as well as ways Muslims are assimilating in Southern California, home to one of America’s largest Muslim communities. Stay tuned….

* Follow-up story here, covering reaction to this story and statements from Warren seeking to clarify the scope and intention of Saddleback’s outreach.

How Green Is Our Valley

Bureaucracy can be a wonderful thing. Tucked inside a recent meeting agenda for an obscure government agency (the Fresno Council of Governments) is a startling revelation: Planners in California’s San Joaquin Valley are embarking on a massive effort to inventory and map out all of the Valley’s natural resources, its watersheds, open spaces, grasslands, remaining wilderness (if any), etc. The project is called the San Joaquin Valley Greenprint and it follows a similar recently completed Valley Blueprint that inventoried the Valley’s urban sprawl and remaining farmland. Don’t write this off as yet another forgettable government study. The Valley Blueprint has already sparked debate between developers, agribusiness and conservationists as Valley governments, for the first time in history, seek to limit sprawl and preserve farmland. The Greenprint will undoubtedly inspire equally intense discussion. The effort to plan Valley growth matters to all Californians, indeed to people around the globe. Most of the fruits and vegetables Americans eat are grown in California. Loss of Valley farmland will drive up food prices for everyone. At the same time the Valley now has eclipsed Los Angeles as home to America’s dirtiest air. If efforts to rein in sprawl and curb greenhouses gases fail here it won’t matter whether they succeed elsewhere in the state. The Greenprint represents a welcome focus on a crucial and often misunderstood and under-appreciated part of California.