“I wonder if getting a PhD in American studies is going to prove I’m an American?”
— Tam Tran, quoted in an article in the Los Angeles Times
I suppose death is the time to reflect and celebrate a life – but what of the black void leading up to accepting the fact that a life should be celebrated because of a death? Shrug. I knew of Tam Tran for quite some time before I finally met her, at a party in which we bantered about the best way to serve cheese. I also met Cinthya Felix then, and I snapped a few photos of both her and Tam with their best friends. The picture still lingers in the electronic halls of Facebook like a Post-It reminder waiting to be appreciated, if only I were brave enough to look at it again.
Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix, both graduates of UCLA and from Southern California, died in a fatal car crash over the weekend. Both were undocumented immigrants, brought here as children. As they went on in their academic careers, they discovered they were ineligible for financial aid thanks to a myriad of statutes barring the release of such funds to undocumented individuals. Private loans were not an option so long as applications required proof of legal status. Heck, without proper ID, the pair would have had problems proving they were of age to watch The Hangover. And so, Tam and Cinthya had to figure out some way to pay the bills in cash. Cinthya came up with a pretty great website straight up asking the public for donations towards her graduate tuition at Columbia (she wanted to be a doctor). Tam juggled as many jobs as she could (she wanted to be a filmmaker). When they didn’t have enough funds, both took off entire quarters until they could re-enroll with the requisite price of admission in hand.
Recognizing they were not alone, the pair advocated tirelessly in support of the as-yet-unpassed DREAM Act, which would grant a carefully defined class of undocumented students residency in this country. Tam testified before Congress in support of the legislation; her efforts drew the attention/ire of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who, out of sheer coincidence I’m sure, arrested her parents and brother three days after her public stance.
I didn’t know either well enough to presume that I know how they would want to be honored, but I do know that they wanted others to understand their cause, even if one, in the end, did not completely agree with their stance. To that end, I’m posting a pretty great video Tam created called “Lost and Found (Story of a DREAM Act Student)”. It was screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Film Festival in 2009. It’s after the jump.
For those struggling with the loss of such honest-to-goodness great people, I suppose the best we can do is trust that the void won’t always be so dark. And when we’re ready, the Post-Its will still be there to remind us all of Tam and Cinthya, and of our dentist appointment tomorrow at 3pm. Don’t be late.