Access and Equity Empowering undocumented students
The power of education
Aurora Chang knows from personal experience the stresses that face young undocumented Americans, and she's devoted to helping others overcome those challenges
In 1979, when Aurora Chang was 5 years old, she fled with her family from Guatemala to California. Her parents—the first in their families to attend college—had three children and another on the way. They were in their early-30s, spoke little English, and were in the process of burning through a temporary American visa.
Chang—now an assistant professor and program chair at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education—was too young to comprehend fully the legal limbo into which she was thrust. In her book, The Struggles of Identity, Education, and Agency in the Lives of Undocumented Students, she describes herself as “an immigrant girl with big dreams and often debilitating anxiety.” To cope, Chang fashioned herself the quintessential “good girl,” obedient and self-effacing, and set about officiating “all of the mundane, yet necessary, rites for everyday survival.” She acted as sous chef in her mother’s kitchen—setting the table and washing dishes, rolling masa for empanadas. She would accompany her parents on medical appointments and teacher conferences. By the time she entered elementary school, filling out forms was second nature.
Chang’s quest for academic achievement, meanwhile, “was the one thing that made everything in my life feel stable and secure.” After high school, she studied English at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned her doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin, enrolling at the most prestigious schools that would accept her. Despite becoming a naturalized citizen in 1991, she never lost the urgency to acquire and produce as much documentation as possible. “I always had to do more, to be the best,” she says. “Education really tapped into that mania.” For Chang, diplomas held the promise of indemnity.