My relationship with the U.S. is like having a crush on a girl who does not like me back. I would like to stay here to explore, grow, work, and live, but this place wants me to do none of these things and leave. Thailand is the place of my younger years and the U.S. is my place of growth, experiences, and relationships with young people, adults, and a community that has empowered me to find my unique voice in this movement and build a united network of young people who see this country as their home.

I was undocumented and afraid that my father was going to pass away before I could return to Thailand. I had been raised by my aunt and uncle. My mom frequently visited and my dad supported me financially from afar. I followed my aunt and uncle to L.A. when my cousin who is a U.S. citizen gave birth to my nephew. My mom agreed to leave me believing that it was best for her only son to find a fruitful future in the U.S. I did not bid farewell to other family or friends believing I would get my citizenship after my cousin became my legal guardian.

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We hired a lawyer but a couple months after my tourist visa had expired, my lawyer told my family that he could no longer work on my case. He had run into problems related to the international child abduction law.

My legal status began to interfere with my life. I set out to take college classes at a local community college and get a job like all my friends but I failed at both. I needed a social security number to work and have access to opportunities such as going to college and qualifying for in-state tuition.

Even though there was no clear road to move forward, I did not want to leave without fulfilling the hope that my family in Thailand had for me to be one of the first Daraphants to attend school in the U.S.

In high school, a counselor connected me to an undocumented alumnus, Jose Antonio Flores, who attended UC Berkeley and shared that I would qualify for AB540 enabling me to pay in-state tuition, and about the California Dream Act providing me with financial aid. I rejoiced in knowing that college was attainable and my dream to share my artistic talents was possible.

A couple months later, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program protecting eligible young people from deportation and allowing them to legally work and drive in the U.S. temporarily, was passed in 2012. I did not qualify for DACA because it specified that a person must enter the country before 2007. I entered in 2009. However, DACA has signified that things are getting better for immigrants.

Shortly before my high school graduation, I went to the Immigrant Youth Empowerment Conference hosted by UCLA. It was surreal that everyone had their own story and journey, but shared my struggle as undocumented youth. I joined Peter Liu’s group which focuses on Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) undocumented issues. That was the first time I met another Asian student who was undocumented. I heard many powerful stories from older ASPIRE members who attended college without the California Dream Act and worked hard to achieve what they did before DACA was even a rumor.

Once I started college at UCI, I tried everything from breakdancing to fraternities, and ended up in the Dreamer Advocate Program. There I met Ana M. Barragan, the coordinator who gave me an internship in peer advising and media advertisement. She asked me to share my story in a small room filled with 20 people and later for Immigration Awareness Week. I finally had an opportunity to contribute to the movement.

Jonathan Paik from the Korean Resource Center (KRC) asked me to speak at a May Day protest where I met the Mayor of Garden Grove, California. I was later invited to the first UC Undocumented Summit in Oakland where Putri, a friend from ASPIRE, started the interruption of Janet Napolitano as she addressed the large numbers of deportations and separation of students and families that took place when she was the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. It was surreal to see UC students from every campus stand up to voice their thoughts. I have also been interning with KRC where I work with my mentor and inspiration, Ju Hong, on the AAPI DACA Collaborative.

Not long ago I was afraid that I would never see my dad again. That fear is still within me, but now there is the anticipated implementation of expanded DACA and the hope that every day will be brighter than the previous. This trip will go far beyond immigration; it is about uniting families, giving people opportunities to do something great with their lives, and showing that every life is important.

That is why I am joining the Dream Riders Across America bus tour with undocumented young people and allies from various states and diverse backgrounds traveling across the country to meet community organizations, young people, and families dedicated to ending social, racial, and economic injustice. Follow us at dreamriders.us

I will end with a Bob Marley quote: “Live for yourself and you will live in vain; Live for others, and you will live again.”

Daraphant, a Thai living in the U.S., is a participant in the Dream Riders Across America Bus Tour organized by the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), the SEIU and other organizations, which began Monday in Washington and will conclude in Texas on Aug. 7.