“I remember clearly… there was breaking news on the TV, and it said, ‘DACA Program, Executive Action.’ My dad woke me up with tears in his eyes. My mom called off of work, and we were all sitting in the TV room watching Barack Obama give a speech of what this program would consist of.”
Until that moment in 2012, Gerardo admits he was not hopeful about his future. He was in the middle of his eighth-grade year when then President Barack Obama issued the groundbreaking executive order—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—which provides temporary protection against deportation and grants work eligibility to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Before DACA, Gerardo, who was born in Mexico and brought to America at the age of four, believed he would have to pursue a profession he had no real desire to do.
“I didn't have a social security number, I wasn't here legally, I didn't have the financial opportunities or scholarships that I would get if I was.”
He admitted his mind had reluctantly come to grips with manual labor for the rest of his life.
“So my idea in my head was, ‘You're going to work construction, you're going to work under the table, you're going to have to learn how to do certain things, but get the best experience out of school. That's the best you're going to get,’" he shared.
Gerardo and his family immigrated to America and settled in Las Vegas, Nevada—a decision he heralds as brave considering they left everything they’d known behind in search of a better life.
“My dad was here before us. [He] told my mom, ‘Hey, I have an opportunity to make an income,’ something that he was unable to do in Mexico because of the limited opportunities,” he shared about his father before explaining his mom’s decision. “My mom was a nurse in Mexico, she's working, had a decent life, and she was looking to buy a daycare.”
Undocumented immigrants have been categorized by a few dehumanizing names over the years, but Gerardo and his 23-year-old younger sister commemorated one of them by inking matching alien tattoos—a nod to their DACA status and their immigration story.
“We weren't really wealthy, so we didn't have a lot growing up, but my parents did what they could and provided me with everything that they could. I learned to work hard and I used school as a way to escape, I guess, our issues. When DACA was introduced and I got in, thousands of doors became open.”
With his DACA status, excellent grades and access to scholarship opportunities, Gerardo was able to fulfill his dream of enrolling in college. He strives to attend law school and then pursue a career as a family law attorney.
“I [currently] work at the Family Law Self Help Center. We're a nonprofit organization. We assist people with low incomes, people who can't afford an attorney or who represent themselves in family matters,” he shared.
In 2020, the dream took a brief hiatus as he and his family welcomed a newborn daughter at the same time of the Covid-19 shutdown.
“After multiple, multiple calculations on Excel sheets—because I'm a big nerd—the decision was to drop out of college,” said Gerardo. “I felt really disappointed, especially because you have a dream and then you have to shift it to a different perspective.”
He admits the new perspective was heavily driven by new love.
“When Emilyn was born, it was a whole different world. I've never loved anybody in my life as much as I love her, and... it's more motivation to be better. And it pushes you to keep going,” he expressed.
Shortly after his daughter’s birth, a colleague introduced Gerardo to the UpTogether community.
“We talked, and she told me that I had a lot of potential. I thought everything was going to hell. She told me, ‘Just because things are rough now doesn't mean the sun is not going to come out,’” he fondly recalled.
Learning about the UpTogether Community came at the perfect time to inject hope and self-worth into the new dad and his small family. Because of the financial strains due to the pandemic, they had recently moved into his mother’s house, where his father, grandmother and sister were also residing.
“A year ago I was in a very bad place mentally, physically, emotionally, I didn't want to do anything, I kind of wanted to just give up on certain things that I was doing. And now a whole 180 [degree turn], whole switch, so life has turned around completely for me,” said Gerardo.
Gerardo acknowledged a bit more breathing room with his finances. He has also been able to create happy memories with his daughter and establish a “rainy day” emergency fund.
“We have that extra cushion, let's go out for ice cream, you know? My daughter loves that, and we're able to start going out more, we're able to start spending more quality time, we're able to start getting on our feet.”
He recently moved into a larger home that he is working towards owning, proudly sharing that now there is more than enough space for his daughter to play and run around freely in the backyard.
“We've been down, all the way down to where you have nothing, and you're at the verge of tears because you have no money, you have no help, [but] when you have that extra cushion you feel like you can do anything. Our life is completely changed. My daughter is enrolled in a daycare full time, no need to worry about paying for it because we can afford it now,” he shared.
Gerardo is also excited to resume classes now and continue his college dream with plans for law school soon after.