Story of Ju Hong, a Dreamer

By Story of America Team

My name is Ju Hong and I am an undocumented immigrant.

I was born in South Korea on October 23rd, 1989. In South Korea, my parents had a Japanese restaurant in downtown Seoul. Due to the economic recession, my parents hardly made any income from our business.

538232_10151151440426982_1323909133_n_(2).jpgShortly thereafter, my parents filed for bankruptcy. In the following year, my mother and my father decided to divorce. After that, I lived with my mother and my older sister, barely able to afford to buy food and a place to stay in South Korea.

In 2001, my mother made a bold decision – she left everything behind and decided to move to the United States to seek a better life for my sister and me. However, once we arrived in the United States, we faced a different set of challenges.

As a single parent, it was hard for my mother to raise my sister and me in a new country. She worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, sacrificing her time and energy to support my education and provide food on the table each day. She was and still is exhausted and overwhelmed after work.

Like my mom, my sister works full-time. Until recently she attended community college at the same time but because of financial difficulties, she had to drop out. My sister had the chance to attend more prestigious colleges and universities. Instead, she is 27 years old and working two shifts at a restaurant, mopping floors, and washing dishes, while her friends are experiencing college life.

Ever since I moved to this country, I grew up just like many other American students. I went to public school, spoke English, joined student groups, and participated in sports team. Most importantly, I had a dream – a dream to go to college.

During senior year in high school, I was filling out a college application that asked for a social security number. Since I didn’t know what to write, I asked my mom about my social security number.  Her response left me with confusion. I learned that my family had overstayed a tourist visa from South Korea. We are undocumented immigrants.

At first, I didn’t know what it meant to be undocumented until I realized I was unable to get a job, obtain a driver’s license, or receive any governmental financial aid. Worst of all, I was and still am at risk of being deported at any given period of time.

Knowing that I have limited opportunities due to my immigration status, I felt discouraged to continue to pursue a higher education. But as I remembered how my mother sacrificed her time and energy to support my education, I decided to stand strong and reaffirm my dreams of attending college once more. 

I enrolled at Laney College in Oakland California under the state law AB540, which allows undocumented students to attend public universities and pay in-state tuition. Once I learned more about AB540 and the DREAM Act, I became hopeful and more motivated to continue to pursue a higher education. As I learned more, I also discovered stories of other undocumented students. When I saw other students risking their lives to share their testimony about their immigration status, I became inspired. That’s when I wanted to be active in a community and let my voice be heard.  Not only did I want to empower other undocumented students, but I also wanted to make a difference in pushing for legislation that would affect me and my family, and also other immigrant communities, in a very positive way. I had ambitious dreams.

At Laney College, I was the president of the Asian American Association student organization. As the president, I spread awareness about Asian Pacific Islander issues through cultural events, workshops, and town hall meetings.

In sophomore year, I became the first Asian American and the youngest student body president at Laney College. I managed and balanced a Student Body budget of $90,000, governed 25 student clubs and organizations, and represented 14,000 diverse students on campus. Furthermore, I have organized more than 500 students to attend Sacramento to protest California educational fee hikes that are affecting students, especially students of color and low-income students.

After two years at Laney College, I graduated with a 3.8GPA before I transferred to the school of my dream: UC Berkeley.

In the summer of 2011, six other undocumented students and I took part in an act of civil disobedience to empower young undocumented immigrant youth across the nation and to protest the inhuman treatments of immigrants. We sat in the street nearby San Bernardino Valley College and submitted to arrest. We were taken to jail. This is the first time in California, when undocumented youth participated in non-violent civil disobedience. I am also the first Asian American undocumented student in the country to participate in a civil disobedience action.

At UC Berkeley, I ran for student government senator and was elected as the very first undocumented student government senator in UC Berkeley history.  As a Senator, I have managed and balanced the UC Berkeley’s student government $1.7 million budget along with 19 other elected senators. Moreover, I managed more than 1,000 student clubs and organizations, and advocate on diverse issues related to health care, affordable education, and academic services. Furthermore, I chaired the standing committee on university and external affairs that makes recommendation on all matters of educational policy. Though my term as a senator has ended, I am still involved in student government and different nonprofit organizations to support students to attain higher education at the four-year university.  

I am an undocumented student. I came to the United States when I was 11-years old. I have been living in the United States for the past eleven years. I graduated from high school in 2008, attended Laney College until 2010 and transferred to UC Berkeley. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012, and I am currently pursuing a master’s program in Public Administration at San Francisco State University. Once I finish my master’s program, my goal is continue to work in a nonprofit organization, providing services and resources to underprivileged immigrant communities. Ultimately, my simple dream is to live a decent life with my family in this country I call home. My only intention is to contribute to make this great nation a better place. 

In fact, 11 million undocumented immigrants also have that similar dream as I do. This is why we need to pass a fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform this year in 2013. There are too many talented undocumented immigrants dropping out of school and immigrant family members are being torn apart due to our broken immigration system. This year, we have a chance – a strong chance to not only solving our broken immigration system but also protecting the dreams of next generation of immigrants in this great country. So let us organize, mobilize, and take collective actions to ensure our voices are heard and push for immigration reform. This is the defining moment in our history – and the time for immigration reform is now.

-Ju Hong

Ju is a student in the Master’s program in Public Administration at San Francisco State University. He hopes to continue to work in a non-profit organization, providing services and resources to underprivileged immigrant communities. Eventually, Ju wants to become a public servant, represent and serve a diverse group of people in the great state of California.