OSCAR VERDIN, 32
Born in Agua Caliente, Jalisco, Mexico
Came to Oxnard on student visa at 14 years old in 1998
Undocumented from 1999 to 2001
U.S. citizen in 2001
B.A. at UCSB
Master’s in counseling and guidance at CLU
Assistant principal, Oxnard High School
Board member for Future Leaders of America

I had five older brothers, three of them living here already, documented and working — two in the fields, one in a factory. My parents came to visit them and my dad, who had worked in the fields in Modesto from 16 until he was almost 60, suffered a debilitating illness on that trip. I was living with my grandpa and two brothers in Mexico when they [my parents] said, we are moving to California. Why? My father was not doing well and it was not a choice. As a young teenager, I came to the U.S. on a student visa. My parents were residents but I just had a student visa. I was 15 to 16. [My student visa] at some point had no more renewals — it expired — and I couldn’t travel back to Mexico. It was really hard, I lost my grandpa and I wasn’t able to see him. I was afraid to come back. In 2001, a law passed for us to be able to have documents, as [children] of U.S. citizens under the age of 18. My dad was a resident and U.S. citizen. My dad immigrated at 16 as undocumented. He was born in 1936 and, in 1952, he crossed the border, came with one cousin, went to Modesto and got a job in the fields. He became really close with his employers and they helped him to become a resident.

Enrique Verdin, father, with Oscar, 14, son, in Oxnard.

At the beginning, it was difficult [for me] adjusting to a new culture and a new language. Coming from a small ranch with a population of 450 people to the 182,000 people living in Oxnard was a huge transition. It was hard to comprehend the move to this country because, as a teenager, it was not my choice to move. The first time I set foot at Oxnard High School it seemed to me that I was walking into a small city — two-story buildings, a huge library and a cafeteria. On the other hand, I was very happy because I did not have to find a ride or take a public bus at 5:30 a.m. for a 35-minute ride to school as was the case in my small ranch. School was not that accessible.

A struggle that I faced was making friends and being accepted as an immigrant, migrant student, English learner and someone dealing with insecurities. As I was struggling with these challenges, I was fortunate to have met several supportive teachers who took the time to know me and guide me during my transition to the U.S. and helped me overcome some of these challenges and insecurities. 

I received my bachelor’s degree in sociology and Spanish, as well as a master’s degree in counseling and guidance. My first three years in high school were difficult because I was trying to adjust to a new culture. I was very shy and had low- elf-esteem. Thanks to my family, Future Leaders of America and Oxnard High School I was able to pursue higher education. I was fortunate to receive financial aid in addition to several scholarships to pay for college. When I was at UC Santa Barbara I had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris, France. Coming from a small ranch and being a migrant student, I never dreamt I was going to live a 15-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower but the opportunities of higher education made that possible for me.

When I was living in Mexico, immigration was not part of our vocabulary. We were concerned about growing crops and feeding our animals. When my parents decided for us to move to the U.S. our lives completely changed. At that moment, it was not a choice that I made, but it was the best decision that my parents made for us. They sacrificed their lives for us to have a better future, and I can proudly say that I am living the American Dream.

Regardless of people’s political stance on these issues, there is no denying that many families and children in the U.S. are faced with this reality on a day-to-day basis. Many of these families have lived here for many years and their children have been raised here for the majority, if not the entirety, of their lives. We cannot assume the individual circumstances of any particular family, but I do believe that immigrants want the best for their families and that no one desires to be undocumented or treated differently. For many of us as first generation in the U.S. it was not an option.