Hope, Community, and Dreams from the American Dream School

by Meheer Commuri
Image: Kimberly Farmer/ Unsplash

He was scared. He was worried. This unfamiliar place was so new to him. But he was finally here. He was in New York City.

Mr. Cabrera was only 14 when he first attempted to cross the border and enter America. Growing up in Tlaxcala, his family lived in a wooden house with a cardboard roof. Like many Indigenous people in Latin America, neglect from the government has led to the impoverishment and deprivation of his community.When the news of an opportunity to cross the border came from a family friend, Mr. Cabrera said yes with zero  hesitation. However, things did not work out. He quickly became stranded at a border town, and eventually found himself back in his hometown. But soon after this, another opportunity arose, and he soon landed in New York City.

Living in New York City can be a challenge for anyone; the city is unforgiving and tests one’s wits daily. Living as an unauthorized citizen is often significantly harder. In addition to dealing with the everyday, unauthorized individuals also face an uphill legal battle. It is a battle that they never choose, and a fight where losing often equates deportation. Because of this risk, many unauthorized citizens live in constant fear of their lives.

The American Dream School (ADS) is trying to change this. It is a charter school located in the South Bronx whose stated mission is to “support the immigrant community.” They have created a haven for immigrant children of all backgrounds and statuses. Upon entering their doors, everyone is equal, safe, and part of a community.

Their work has paid off. Not only have they created an inclusive learning environment, but they also lowered Mexican American high-school dropout rates and raised Mexican American college attendance rates. I sat down with Angel Cabrera Rodriguez, one of ADS’s founding board members, to discuss his personal and communal efforts to support the immigrant community.

Angel Cabrera Rodriguez, more commonly known as Angelo Cabrera, calls himself an “activist and educator,” though that is a drastic understatement. Like with many other people, labels do not define him.

Mr. Cabrera has an A.B. in Political Science and an A.M. in Public Management. He first put these experiences to use when he worked alongside the Department of Education to promote access to college for Mexican Americans. As the workshop exceeded its capacity for attendance, he became determined that this was what he wanted to do in life.

His next endeavour involved partnering with the City University of New York to work on attracting Mexican Americans to the college application process. He utilized targeted presentations and workshops to great success. Application count went from less than 5,000 in 2005 to over 30,000 in 2018. Mr. Cabrera had finally established himself as a fighter for immigrant welfare. However, his work has only just begun.

Mr. Cabrera then co-established the Mexican American Students Association (MASA). His ambition for MASA was what he calls “a pipeline for Mexican immigrant children.”Originally an activist organization, MASA is now a full institution. It provides families with various programs and support systems to help them adjust to their new life. “MASA offers everything from language classes, to ‘know your rights’ programs, to a robotics club.” Everything is done from a communal perspective with the children and families in mind.

Mr. Cabrera said, “children? I don’t have one, I have hundreds. My students have become my children… I am always there for them.” This sentiment is echoed throughout all of the work that he has done for his community. Speaking to him, it quickly becomes evident that selflessness is a thing Mr. Cabrera knows well. All of his work has been dedicated to lifting up the next generation. Some might think that it is too early to say if his efforts are paying off, but one thing’s certain: he has created hope, and hope is the best driver of progress.

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