KANSAS CITY, Mo — Last month a 2010 Center honors graduate came full circle in his long journey to overcome many of the same disadvantages faced by some 800,000 “dreamers” in this country, children who came to America with their parents but who never became citizens.
Martin Ramos, now a student at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Mo. won’t have to worry about his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status anymore, now that he has become a U.S. citizen. But he has turned his attention to others who he knows need his help in completing their own personal journey as dreamers.
Martin’s earliest memories of immigrating to the U.S. are not pleasant ones. He and his mother were brought by a coyote from Mexico to join his father, then working in California. “I was really, really young,” he remembered. “It was hard to go through. I wore rugged boots and it was hard to run fast. We got caught and when I remember, all I think about is the flashing lights.”
Martin and his mother were taken by immigration authorities to a holding cell and were later returned to Mexico. The second time he made the trip, it was successful, and he and his mother made their way to Center where his father felt it would be safer. There they lived in a trailer with 12 other relatives, and Martin remembers sleeping in a dresser drawer “for a lot of years.”
His father eventually obtained residency for himself and then the rest of the family. The residency interview was uncomfortable, with authorities asking Martin questions about how his parents treated him, he said. But the family’s residency status was granted and they then were able to rent their own home in Center on Hurt Street.
Later they rented a yellow house “and that landlord was the greatest guy,” Martin recalled. He attended Center Schools where he met Center teacher Susan Banning, who encouraged him and paid him to do odd jobs out of her own pocket. Later school counselor Katrina Ruggles also helped him find jobs in his middle school and high school years.
He says he aws very grateful to Center teachers and also found comfort and support in attending his church, Valley Fellowship.
When Martin was a junior, his father decided to move the family to California. “I was broken-hearted,” he said. “It was very hard in California. It was a big school and I hated it.” So Martin decided to run away.
For an entire week, no one knew where he was. He lived on the streets until a Good Samaritan took him in. He helped Martin find a place to stay — a rehabilitation center populated by ex-drug lords, convicts, etc. “I had to get out of there so I went to see my uncle,” he continued.
The uncle reunited him with his mother who didn’t know if he was alive or dead, and “I held her for a long time, crying,” he remembered. He later purchased a phone and told her he was moving back to Colorado.
Martin credits great friends like Tim Chacon, now owner/operator of High Velocity Graphics in Center, for helping him make the return trip. Chacon’s parents paid for his bus trip back to the town he loves.
“They really helped me — I owe them a lot,” he commented. Also among the people he owes a debt of gratitude is former Center Schools superintendent George Welsh and his wife, Becky Reed, as well as “the whole library staff at Center Schools. They were basically my family,” Martin explained. Welsh and Reed let him stay in a house behind their residence and helped him get caught up in school, since many of his credits did not transfer to Center from California.
And Banning was once again there for Martin when he returned.
At 17 Martin was eligible for benefits and his friends in Center helped him access those, he said. He graduated with honors and went to Trinidad State Junior College where he met his wife Becca, also a Center graduate, “who really encouraged and helped me.” Today he plans to use all the “blood, sweat and tears” of his childhood and teen years to help other DACA dreamers who might not have the good friends and support he had.
“Lots of kids used to be in my shoes, and I want to show them the path to stay in this country,” he said. “I learned a lot from the great staff at Center — they held my hand and pushed me to the limits.” After finishing at Maple Woods, he plans to earn a degree in public administration at Kansas University in Lawrence, Kan. From there he plans to become involved in politics, establishing 501(c)(3)non-profits and assisting local school districts in streamlining the citizenship process to help students like himself.
His brother and sister were born in this country and are doing well for themselves, he said. And his parents are now studying to become citizens as well. But his mission is to reach out to those who were not as fortunate and build a platform for them once he has completed his education. “It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
Seeing all he has accomplished already, all the hurdles he has cleared, fellow dreamers like Martin can rest assured their future is in good hands.