Loyola Professor, Once Undocumented, Fights for DACA Students

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

The Loyola community has often shown its advocacy and support for undocumented students and individuals due to the large population of undocumented students on campus. But for Dr. Aurora Chang, an assistant professor at Loyola’s School of Education, the cause is personal. Chang was once an undocumented immigrant herself.

In 1978, when she was five years old, Chang and her family fled Guatemala and came to California because of political and safety issues.

Chang said her parents were in their early 30s at the time and had three children, with one on the way. They were unemployed, didn’t speak English and didn’t have official documentation.

Her family became legal residents in 1986 when then-President Ronald Reagan passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This act gave millions of qualified people who illegally entered the country amnesty.

The law gave them five years to prove themselves as citizens by taking a citizenship test while also being interviewed by immigration and naturalization services, leading to the eventual application to become a citizen. In 1991, Chang became a naturalized citizen.

As a child, Chang had a hard time understanding her family’s circumstances, but always felt the fear her parents had for being undocumented.

“I didn’t know what I was fearing as a child, but I knew I had fear in me,” Chang said. “I think I felt my parents’ fear the way that children do. I knew at a conscious level that something was at stake.”

Growing up in Richmond, California, Chang said she found an interest in academics early on — partly because of the pressure to succeed.

“I knew that I had to do good in school,” Chang said. “That was something that was just intrinsic in my family because education meant that you were being a good cultural citizen of this country and it also kept us sort of off the radar.”

Chang received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from University of California, Berkeley and received a master’s degree in secondary education from Stanford University. In 2010, she earned her doctoral degree in cultural studies in education at University of Texas at Austin.

Today, Chang spends her time advocating and supporting undocumented and marginalized students at Loyola in the height of the Trump administration’s attempts in September to begin phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Trump set the deadline for Congress to come up with a DACA solution as March 5.

“I feel like I was meant to be here at Loyola because of the intense advocacy that this school does for undocumented students,” Chang said.

DACA is a program that was formed in 2012 by former President Barack Obama. It granted illegal minors, also known as Dreamers, renewable two-year deferments from deportation and permission to work and go to school in the United States. DACA has protected about 800,000 people from deportation since its inception.

On Jan. 9., U.S District Judge William Alsup ordered the Trump administration to place a hold on the phasing out of DACA until lawsuits play out in court, allowing Dreamers to continue renewing their deferments.

At Loyola, approximately 140 students are undocumented, and about half of those students are at Loyola under DACA, The PHOENIX previously reported.

Chang began working at Loyola in 2014 and has since taught course work in curriculum as well as social justice in education. She mainly prepares students to teach in urban public schools. She has also led several research teams on undocumented students, where they have conducted participatory youth action research, a type of research that focuses on using the principles of social justice toward community development and service.

David Slavsky, interim dean of the School of Education, said Chang is an important perspective to have with the current DACA situation.

“Right now since DACA is such a critical issue in the United States, she is a very important voice in that discussion,” Slavsky said. “She has not only a personal narrative that relates to that, but her intellectual capacity and her research background.”

She is also highly regarded by students in the School of Education.

“Her students love her,” Slavsky said. “She routinely has some of the highest student evaluations, and the written comments that students make are very informative. They appreciate her as a person.”

In addition to doing research, Chang teaches doctoral graduate seminars on students who entered the United States illegally as well as Chicano feminism, which advocates for Mexican-American women’s rights. She also works as part of the DREAMer Committee, a university-wide committee that works toward supporting Loyola Dreamers.

“I never imagined that I would go from being one undocumented child to now what I call a hyper-documented professor,” Chang said.

Chang said she uses the term “hyper-documented” to describe the requirement of excessive amounts of documents, such as awards and academic degrees, to compensate for a sense of unworthiness that still persists with her today.

“I still have those same feelings and behaviors as when I was undocumented, which I think makes a lot of sense given the [Trump] administration’s vilification of undocumented people in general,” Chang said.

On Feb. 13, Chang held a launch party at Piper Hall for her recently published book, “The Struggles of Identity, Agency, and Education in the Lives of Undocumented Students: The Burden of Hyperdocumentation.”

As both an academic and personal pursuit, she said the book interlaces her story of once being an undocumented immigrant to becoming a reputable academic.

“My whole journey with this book in interlacing both my story and the story of undocumented students is to really encourage people, especially for marginalized communities to tell their counter stories,” Chang said.

The book has made an impression on many of its readers, including Paula Camaya, a sophomore secondary education and history major.

“In her book and in her life, she talks about being a woman of color and being somebody in academia who holds a lot of intersecting identities,” Camaya said. “I respect that a lot about her that she is so in touch with all of it.”

Alexandra Escobar, a graduate student in the School of Education who is working on her dissertation with Chang, said Chang has been helpful as a fellow Latina.
“It is hard to come across somebody that understands the reality of being a woman of color in positions of privilege,” Escobar said. “We have been able to have conversations and she has been really supportive, and I have not had that often.”

Aside from her book, Chang continues to do everything she can to support not just Loyola’s DACA students, but other communities of people who are marginalized.

“My life really revolves around using my capital in every way possible to uplift, support and advocate for not just undocumented communities, but marginalized communities, such as communities of color, queer and trans communities of color, students with disabilities, you name it,” Chang said.

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