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By Pavel Stankov. November 22, 2013 - 8:00 am
“I’m very, very competitive,” says HPU Diplomacy and Military Studies major Miguel Galvez Bravo. “I’m sure anybody can vouch for that.”
The former Cal State Northridge track and field athlete describes the joy to rediscover therapeutic running again after a many-month hiatus.
“It started on Sunday – I was drained with everything I had seen the last couple of weeks, so I just grabbed my shoes and went for a run.”
One reason for Miguel’s psychological exhaustion is his ardent activism. Since the start of the SB1 special session on October 28 he has been at the forefront of the debate, spreading the message of marriage equality in front of the State Capitol while balancing school responsibilities and his new job as a Volunteer & Community Relations Coordinator with Planned Parenthood.
Miguel, however, seems to thrive amidst the chaos of his activist lifestyle and the pressure of his many duties. He looks, talks, and acts like a person on a mission.
Among HPU students he is unique in another respect: his “undocumented” status. Born in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 25 years ago and brought to California illegally at the age of 2 by his parents, Miguel grew up as one of more than 10 million foreign nationals staying in violation of U.S. laws. Targeting many of them is the so-called DREAM Act – a bill introduced on the federal level as early as 2001 (though never approved) which aims at giving a “path to citizenship” to people brought to the country as minors providing they attend college or join the military.A nation-wide extension of these acts is one of Miguel’s most passionate hopes.
Meanwhile here in Hawaii some are already moving in that direction. Earlier this year UH recently changed its policy allowing undocumented students who have graduated from a U.S. high school to pay in-state tuition, in fact implementing the DREAM Act on a small scale.
“This is my home,” he said referring to the Aloha State, “I think that I can do more good here.”
Fortunately, HPU awarded him with two scholarships since he started the program last year – Holomua and the Dean’s scholarship. Miguel feels relieved by the support and recognition he received from his Department Chair Russell Hart and the hard work of the Scholarship and Business offices.
As an illegal immigrant he is not eligible for any sort of Financial Aid and he can’t get a loan or a grant. Apart from a scholarship from the school, the only other option would be a private loan. That, however, is only a theoretical possibility for a humble young immigrant without the necessary connections, as it requires two co-signors with considerable affluence. “No one’s willing to put their financial life on the line for someone else,” said Miguel.
“So that was a major struggle,” he continues. “And still – financially – I’m still struggling. Even if that makes me working two jobs, even if that makes me working 80 hours a week, which I’ve done most of my time here, I’m going to do whatever I can to pay for my school.”
He is able to work legally because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order President Obama signed last year.
In Hawaii, he hit the ground running: with little money and not knowing anybody he quickly started two full-time jobs in retail while going to school.
“I would literally work the morning shift, come to class, work the night shift and that was my life for the first four to five months living here by myself,” Miguel recalls.
Why did he decide to squeeze LGBT activism in his busy balancing act of school and job duties? For him the struggle is personally relevant as well: “I am gay, and I do feel that our legal system is discriminatory towards gays. It is.”
“Equality is a simple concept,” he answers. “Every person has the right to be recognized. It’s as simple as that.”
To cherry pick some aspects of it while ignoring others would be living in bad faith.
And if we want Freedom, Miguel argues, we have to do something about it because change doesn’t come by itself. “People didn’t just give rights to women,” he says, “they didn’t just give rights to minorities. [Activists] fought for them. You have great heroes in the past – Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta – individuals who said ‘Hell, no! This is not ok.’ I’m not just going to stand here and let someone else define my life.”
Tracking the evolution of the American civil rights is one of Miguel’s academic interests. His thesis proposal is about reaction to social change in the military. Surprisingly, Miguel has found out, the conservative institution sometimes leads the way, as it did with reversing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy two years ago.
In society in general, however, change is slow and painful. According to Miguel, we fail to realize the crossroad of marriage equality is a familiar one. “Ten years from now people from our generation are going to have the same mindset of the issue that we have of segregation,” Miguel begins animatedly. “Because when we think of segregation too, it was a stupid concept. Why should we separate people based on the color of their skin, based on their race? … Interracial marriage – the same thing. This is exactly the same issue. Women’s rights – exactly the same issue.”
Miguel sees the right to marry whomever you want as a natural continuation of the struggle for civil liberties and individual dignity. When this interview was taken, shortly before Gov. Abercrombie signed SB1, he was unambiguous about the oppression and injustice of the previous policy: “It excludes individuals,” Miguel spoke the word like it were revealed, “that’s what it does!”
For Miguel this is where marriage equality activism connects with raising awareness of unjust legal status. It’s all about Freedom.
“Being gay does not classify me as a second class citizen. I mean – I’m just like everybody else.”
These two issues – two personal struggles taken to signify the wider movement to greater equality and justice – are precisely what inspires Miguel to give back and help those in need. “That’s the reason why I want to work in policy,” he says, “because I know that there are a lot of kids out there who have exceptional grades. There are a lot of kids out there who are incredible athletes, or have this particular skill that makes them great. But they’re limited to what they can do because of something they had no control over.”
Miguel is contemplating two paths: law or educational policy.
Should he choose Law, this would likely be an interesting legal case by itself because illegal immigrants are not allowed to take the bar exam and practice the profession, regardless if they have completed JD education.
At the same time Miguel could hope to use one of his Facebook friends Sergio Garcia, the first undocumented American to get a law license, as a precedent. Because of qualifying under the Deferred Action bill, Miguel can legally work in those circumstances, albeit until the age of 30.