TCNJ Magazine - Spring 2019

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36 The College of New Jersey Magazine SHE LIVED A LIFE like every other teenager she knew. But when it was time to apply for college, the reality of being undocumented hit her. T he stories that motivate Johanna Calle '08 (photo, preceding spread) are marked by hardship: the day laborers driven to South Jersey for work and left stranded at day's end; the mother in Eliza- beth who must wait for a taxi each time her daughter's severe asthma requires a trip to the emergency room; the New Brunswick man who commutes by bus, a three-hour round trip, because he cannot drive the more direct route to work himself. "Imagine what this does to a working person," she says. But Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, does not have to imagine. She knows firsthand the challenges faced by anything you want,'" she says. "And I believed it." Calle came to love school and studied hard. She ran for student council president and won. She joined the honor society and the swim team and lived a life like every other teenager she knew. But, in 2003, when it was time to apply for college, the reality of being undocu- mented hit her. "It was like getting cold water splashed on your face," she says. "It was heartbreaking." While her parents had been issued Social Security numbers after they arrived, Calle and her brothers had not. Without one, she discov- ered, it wasn't possible to apply to many colleges or access the financial aid or student loans she needed. But Calle, ranked in the top 5 percent of her graduating class, was determined. She approached a non- profit working with immigrants for advice and learned, for the first time, about the Dream Act. "I spent a lot of senior year chas- ing around college recruiters: 'Hi, I'm undocumented, do you know what to do with me?'" she says. It was the first time she'd spoken with strangers about her family's status, and it was terrifying. "My parents weren't happy," she says. "But I needed to know if anyone could help." TCNJ let Calle apply without a Social Security number; later she was approved for in-state tuition after producing a decade's worth of her parents' tax returns that proved their residency. She found a home in the sociology department, where her interest in social justice grew, but she remained hesitant about sharing her own story: Visiting Washington, D.C., undocumented immigrants, whether trying to get around without a driver's license or simply trying to build a life, because she herself was one. These days, her multi-layered past and present is summed up proudly in her Twitter bio — "Ecuadorian by birth, American by choice. Former Dreamer. Politics junkie. Feminist." But for many years, it was the shadow hanging over her life. In fifth grade, Calle moved to Hackensack with her brothers and grandmother, joining a family story already in motion. Her father had arrived a couple years earlier, after the family restaurant back in Santo Domingo failed. Her mother later followed, smuggled across the border. Though relieved to be reunited, the challenges for Calle — new country, new school, new language — were daunting. "I hated it." she says. "I came home from school crying every day." Learning English helped Calle regain her footing, along with an encouraging ESL teacher. "My bilingual ed teacher used to say, 'If you work really hard here, you're going to be able to do

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