When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, was established in 2012, sisters Nilvia Reyes Rodriguez (senior) and Monica Reyes, ‘15, sprung into action. They knew there were other “dreamers” like themselves, who would need help connecting to resources.
Together, they formed a Facebook group that provided a safe space for immigrants and allies to connect across the state of Iowa. This group would eventually grow into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, DREAM Iowa.
As the organization grew, so has its vision, which now focuses on helping immigrant Iowans shift from generational poverty to generational wealth.
A big part of this transition, they've discovered, is understanding the history behind the events that drew immigrants to Iowa. And then sharing those stories with others.
With this in mind, this summer Rodriguez has been helping a local author and journalist with a book, spearheaded by DREAM Iowa.
It highlights the stories of immigrant families who have been in Iowa across generations. There are fourth, fifth and even sixth generation Iowans whose families came to the state during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some arrived as part of the 1986 amnesty under President Reagan. Others are refugees, who sought safety in Iowa after various reigns of terror.
Rodriguez is diving into the historical narratives behind each story. As a public administration major and history minor, she has a passion for analyzing current issues within a historical context. She also has direct experience with how these narratives can distinctly shape lives.
Rodriguez's own family came to Iowa when a local meatpacking plant recruited workers from Mexico.
She became a DACA recipient at 19 and enrolled in UNI directly after high school. Trying to minimize her future debt, she worked three jobs, putting in 60-80 hours a week. The process was not sustainable. After a period of time taking semesters off, she finally settled into a well-paying full-time job. It was comfortable, but the lack of a college degree weighed heavily on her mind. So when the company closed, she counted it as a blessing and returned to UNI.
Rodriguez realizes her college journey has been quite different than many others. But that's also what has made it even richer in the end. In her public administration classes, they discuss things she’s already doing or has done. Having these experiences has helped her understand the practical applications immediately. And, with help from the TRADE act, she’ll now graduate debt-free.
Her advice to current and future students? Never give up hope. As Rodriguez sets her sights on graduating this December, she looks back on nine years of a meandering journey filled with barriers. But if she can do it, anyone can. There are so many ways to find help.
The immigrant and undocumented student experience is often an unspoken, yet interwoven part of the UNI campus (and many others). Rodriguez’s primary goal is to help share these experiences and dynamic histories. It's up to the rest of us to listen.
For more information about DREAM Iowa, visit dreamiowa.us.
For more stories about CSBS faculty, students and alumni, visit csbs.uni.edu/magazine.