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    I’m still hyped that I got to be a part of the #hyperbole2018! Our youth are beautiful. #donotbesilent #splitthisrock ❤️ Today I ran a workshop for the #HyperBole2018. I made myself vulnerable. We opened with “Fear in a Box” where everyone, high school and college students, anonymously wrote their fears and hopes on a piece of paper. Then they crumbled the paper or made a paper airplane to fly into the box. We went around the room and opened up the fears and hopes. One girl noticed that the hopes were internal expectations and the fears related to something or someone external to us. 🤔
I shared my fear: deportation. My workshop was on immigration and immigrant poets. I am not afraid to be the immigrant in the room. I am that girl, but it don’t come easy. I ran the workshop twice, but the first time was the harder one. I have shared my story before, and yet, I never know how my heart will cope on any given day. 💔Today I had to breathe in before saying the words “my fear is deportation” because it is a very valid fear no matter what people say: I’m praying, down with Trump, it’ll be alright. I don’t know if I will stay in my America. I hope that like the fears the youth shared such as letting people down, being alone, spiders, and jellyfish, my fear can be overcome. #callcongress #saveTPS Morning hour. 😴 At a new temporary office! The life of an immigrant poet.
#workweek #before8am
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1,000 miles: step 88

February, I like to think, ends the winter season. At the very least, it serves as a transition point, a leap forward into spring. I’m going through similar leaps forward, or leap backwards? Read on for some general Claudia updates:

On the Job Market

Art in Congress

Art gallery in tunnel toward the Capitol

I’m now a FWD.us alumna, no longer an intern. My time at FWD was incredible. I gained so much confidence and knowledge about Capitol Hill. Before FWD, I had never stepped foot in the halls of Congress. I had never shaken the hands of a senator or representative, yet alone be in a meeting room with them.

But I don’t fancy myself a pro community organizer. Instead, I’m a starving artist at age 23. I got stuck with a poet’s body in a culture that doesn’t pay artists their cultural capital.

I have no idea what happens next in my life, but here are some things that are obvious and opposites: there are bills to pay; I’m a writer.

Oh, and I have 18 months of protection from deportation in this country. Good luck to me.

All I’ve Yet to See & Hear

There’s so much of America that I want to see and because there’s a legal clock ticking, I want to go far this year.

If I started listing the things and places I haven’t seen, I might as well hide under a rock. Last year was actually my first trip to New York City. I haven’t seen a live concert. I haven’t been to any Disneylands. I haven’t traveled abroad.

I can’t afford much of my bucket list because of the starving artist situation. Fortunately, I live in gorgeous Virginia and near Washington, DC. There’s a lot of sightseeing potential here.

Anyone want to publish me?

I decided to publish my first poetry book last summer. I’ve been in the “please publish me” game for less than a year. I’ve had single poems accepted into magazines–this past week it was a series of poems in Argot magazine.

To my deep disappointment, the whole manuscript hasn’t found a home. I could be patient, in another life. My book can’t wait for long. I’m feeling very anxious because of the whole legal clock ticking.

There’s moves I could be making right now: self-publishing. That is something that’s on my mind.

Traditions

IMG_2151

Junior youth power

Over the years, DoSomething.org has partnered with Meals on Wheels to run the Love Letters Campaign. I joined the campaign in 2015, and because I love keeping traditions, sent in Valentine’s Day cards to seniors until 2017. This year the campaign didn’t open; maybe it was due to funding for the scholarship tied to the campaign. I could be wrong, but I for sure didn’t want to stop sending cards.

I got the junior youth group I help run on the weekends together. We all made Valentine’s Day cards to send to Cards for Hospitalized Kids.

#ToImmigrantsWithLove is also coming up. It’s a tradition hosted by FWD.us to send love to immigrants on Valentine’s Day. Write a physical or digital letter and share online.

Make it a Happy Valentine’s!

_________________________________________________

Claudia Rojas is poeta. She’s also a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holder. TPS protects individuals fleeing natural disaster and war on a temporary basis. The program has been extended for many years; no permanent solution has ever been presented. Currently, the countries of Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, and El Salvador have lost TPS and lives are at risk should Congress or America fail us. Call your member of Congress today through the FWD.us tool or find your representative’s info online. 

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1,000 miles: step 87

TPS Event

Artwork by Eliza Kingsley for An Evening of Hope 2/10/18

On January 8th, I was given a kind of death sentence. That’s the date DHS announced to end El Salvador’s TPS (Temporary Protected Status).  I’ve had almost a month to process the implications of this, and I don’t feel like I’ve made big leaps. The thing is that I don’t want to process this information. I don’t want to live with September 2019 stuck in my throat because that’s what happens when I think about my future. I just can’t breathe.

It hurts to think about the possibility that I would have to pack my life and move into another country. For permanent residents and American citizens, travelling to another country is exciting; it’s doable. For me, travelling abroad was never an option. Travelling abroad is a luxury. It’s clearly expensive, but when you’re under a conditional program, it’s reckless.

Immigrating is not traveling. My mother didn’t bring me into the U.S. so we could vacation. She brought me here to live. I don’t know what it’s like to travel to a new country because of a desire to explore. I don’t know even know about airplanes. My passport’s never been stamped.

And now, in under two years, I could be forced into another country. It makes me furious because now I’m an adult, and I know what I want out of life. I deserve a say. I deserve to use my college degree.

There are a total of 200,000 TPS holders in the U.S. Over 23,000 of them live in Virginia, and I imagine that they are feeling angry, distressed, and betrayed right now. The numbers are big, but I don’t personally know many TPS holders. Most people don’t open with “My name is Claudia; I’m here in this country temporarily.”

My network is about to change. These past weeks, I’ve stumbled across young TPS holders online. I can anticipate their stories. The struggle to find financial scholarships. The struggle to renew a driver’s license. What I don’t know is what growing up was like for them because growing up is different for all of us. This Saturday, I get to learn about life with TPS from someone who’s not me or related to me.

This Saturday, February 10th, is the culmination of a month’s work. Together, with Haydi Torres, I co-host An Evening of Hope for the TPS Community. It’s an opportunity for the community to learn more about TPS and to enjoy a line up of artists standing in solidarity with this particular immigrant community.

It’s an event that I need because just like most people don’t open with their immigration status, most people don’t open with their solidarity. Sometimes, I’ll have a friend or college peer reach out to me and say “I’m reading your posts.” That’s as far as most interactions go. The rest of my time online is me speaking into a vacuum. I’m tired of that. I need more from people. I need people to stand up for immigrants because some days, it gets really hard to get out of bed. I want to hear from other people that I matter, that I’m here, that I belong.

_________________________________________________

Claudia Rojas is poeta. She’s also a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holder. TPS protects individuals fleeing natural disaster and war on a temporary basis. The program has been extended for many years; no permanent solution has ever been presented. Currently, the countries of Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, and El Salvador have lost TPS and lives are at risk should Congress or America fail us. Call your member of Congress today through the FWD.us tool or find your representative’s info online. 

1,000 miles: step 86

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’d like to enjoy that in under 9 hours, we’ll start a brand new year.  The thing is that you can put a name on it: “New Year’s” but without any collective effort and planning, it’s gong to be the same year masked under “2018.”

We don’t want 2017 to roll onto 2018. In 2017, the immigrant community received several hits:

We Have to Protect Immigrant Bodies

I recently watched From One Mistake: How Immigration Became My Very Personal Fight, a documentary available on YouTube. It’s told in a simple narrative style with Hendel Leiva speaking into the camera for most of the film with some glimpses of hate crimes on the national level, but with a focus on New York race relations.

In a candid way, Hendel shares with the audience that at one point in his life, he spat out hate speech to immigrants as a “prank.” It wasn’t long before his conscience and the worth of the human body caught up with him. In this hour long documentary, Hendel explains what steps he took to amend his past by turning to advocacy and empowering people to share their story. One of his projects is Immigration MIC, a podcast that features interviews with immigrants vocal in their community.

Hands

Photo: CC0 Creative Commons

The film is a story of redemption, and I wish more, if there are any, converts would share their story. I wouldn’t know about Hendel if he had not found me online and invited me to the conversation.

Stories shouldn’t collect dust in our hearts. Stories have to be passed on, through literature, through music, through film, through our very mouth. To protect all kinds of bodies next year, we need spaces for stories. We need ready ears.

2017 Was a Year of Not Listening

This year I worked with the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, a Baha’i sponsored community program. This is where I met Ron Lapitan, whose goal is to speak with all types of people regardless of religion or political background. His published book The Earth is One Country is part of that community goal.

This year, I had my own sort of revelation about community. The Culmore area, where I’ve grown up, has a reputation as a dangerous zone. For years, I’ve been cautious to know my own neighbors. Through the junior youth program, I met families and youth in the area. I learned their names. I learned to change my community by engaging with it.

When I see youth in community groups, I see potential. We have to start preparing the future early. And the stubborn adults of today? We have to understand what’s made them who they are and what misconceptions they carry.  This is particularly important online: ending disagreements with “you must be an idiot” or correcting people’s grammar with the goal of making your opinion “right” don’t make any of us morally superior.

I’ve been told some people are lost causes, and sometimes, when I’m feeling too woman, too brown, too immigrant, I think that myself. I don’t have any magic fix for the country, but let’s not wait until our present becomes a dirty past, until the history textbooks group 2018 with 2017 as another year that didn’t listen.

_________________________________________________

Claudia Rojas is poeta. She’s also a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holder. TPS protects individuals fleeing natural disaster and war on a temporary basis. The program has been extended for many years; no permanent solution has ever been presented. Currently, the countries of Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan have lost their TPS designation. El Salvador, Claudia’s country of origin, has 200,000 TPS holders whose lives are at risk should Congress or America fail us. Call your member of Congress today through the FWD.us tool or find your representative’s info online. We cannot delay.

 

1,000 miles: step 85

In  my last update, I expressed several frustrations with being a 20-something year old. Those frustrations are still relevant, but there’s been a few changes and experiences since. Read on to find out.

Two Sylvias Press Online Poetry Retreat

The online poetry retreat, normally a $279 experience, was offered to me through a scholarship. Just in time before the retreat started, I received a journal and book from Two Sylvias Press and was invited to a Facebook group. The retreat began early in October. For the following four weeks, I received writing prompts and motivational quotes in my inbox. I managed to keep up with the prompts. It was a productive season, which ended with my submitting two poems to the editors for critique.

New & Old Experiences

Sunset - blue -sky

Photo I took on a busy day, 11/21

In October, I helped judge a speech competition that was held at George Mason University. I judged something.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, Fall for the Book happens in October. Where were you? I attended my third Fall for the Book Festival because it’s tradition.

I also attended my first orchestra performance at the Kennedy Center and recommended the experience in my Simple Gems in the City of Washington, DC post. It’s a great chance to wear that fancy attire tucked in our closets.

Reading Poetry in Public Spaces

On October 21, I read a poem for a holy day, the bicentennial celebration of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith. I made a recording of the poem “How To Live” for YouTube. Then, at a Sterling protest on November 21, I read two poems about being an immigrant. This was in front of Representative Barbara Comstock’s office.

Though these experiences aren’t the same as open mics, I find them thrilling. What’s a poem if not breathed into the public? If you are interested in my poetry, The Bookends Review published one of my forms poem, a sestina. Read the poem now.

Public Resistance for Immigration Reform

As I said to a crowd of protesters in Sterling, I feel most comfortable with poetry. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve forced myself into protests. I was even interviewed for a ThinkProgress article and provided Mason Dreamers with input about the TPS situation. Public resistance means an active engagement with my community; it makes me feel empowered. Many people still don’t know about TPS. Educating people online is difficult–there are short attention spans and complicated lives.

DC protest TPS

I help hold that banner shortly after taking this picture on 10/23 #SaveTPS

If you follow me through Twitter or Instagram, you’ll find that these days, immigration doesn’t leave my mind. I have started a countdown for the days left until the Department of Homeland Security makes a decision about El Salvador’s TPS designation. By chance, this March 2018 deadline also marks the point when DACA (Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals) ends for thousands of youth. Times are rough.

I’m A Policy Intern

This month, I started an internship as policy intern with FWD.us. It was an unexpected turn of events, but it’s the space I need to be in right now. It’s a space that makes sense with the issues that make my heart heavy.

FWD.us organized a fly-in for about 100 DACAmented youth and businesses who employ these youth, so they could meet with members of Congress. I was part of that effort!

Being me at this moment / brown/ immigrant / woman isn’t easy, but I’m taking step after step anyway.

_________________________________________________

Claudia Rojas is poeta. She’s also a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holder. TPS protects individuals fleeing natural disaster and war on a temporary basis. The program has been extended for many years; no permanent solution has ever been presented. Currently, the countries of Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan have lost their TPS designation. El Salvador, Claudia’s country of origin, has 200,000 TPS holders whose lives are at risk should Congress or America fail us. Call your member of Congress today through the FWD.us tool or find your representative’s info online. We cannot delay.

1,000 miles: step 84

This week I’ve been thinking about being a 20-something.

I’m out of college, and I’m going into October pretty much unemployed, by choice. Don’t get me wrong, I need a job. I also need a career.

I decided that long-term data entry was a job, not a path to a career in writing or editing. It wasn’t an easy choice. The office wasn’t a hostile place. I had a full-time schedule. I could imagine myself staying there, which was part of the problem.

I have to take risks. I strongly believe in my dreams– no one’s going to make them happen but me.

My professors always said, “you can do so much with an English degree.” I haven’t changed my mind about the English degree. I have a valuable degree, but it’s one whose worth has to be proven. All throughout college, I knew that finding a job in my field would be tough. I knew that much.

I have to be honest. I didn’t imagine that the job search would be this hard, that I’ll be on job application #50 within the next week or so.

The 20s is a hard stage.

I’ve always been so ambitious, and that’s not enough. Grit is as necessary. A strong support system is as necessary. I’ve been plagued with more self-doubt than usual. Even though I know not to measure myself by the accomplishments of other people my age, I still look at close friends with full-time jobs and families.

I look at people with English or Communications degrees AND a job. And I wonder when is my life starting?

My adult, out-of-school life has started. It’s one of struggle, and I’m not a stranger to that. In 2012, when I learned I wouldn’t graduate within 4 years from college, I accepted that my life’ has a different rhythm.

These days, it’s back to sending freelance proposals to clients, re-writing cover letters, and getting excited for that one interview.

It’s going beyond writing a to-do list that isn’t related to essays, projects, or grades. It’s checking off my to-do list because I hold myself accountable. It’s…

  • Visit the National Harbor [Done!]
  • Write a collaborative poem [Done!]
  • Don’t panic when you get a flat tire [Done!]
  • Write this blog post [  ]

It’s volunteering with children, but knowing full well that I want a dog in my future. It’s feeling old.

These days, it’s remembering the 20s is young.

1,000 miles: step 83

Firstpublication

Issue 15 of Canadian magazine, Poetry is Dead

It’s been difficult to separate my personal life from the political world.

Every morning on my way to work, I’ve made it a habit to search for news articles about the future of TPS (Temporary Protected Status). I’ve been sharing these articles on social media and with friends.

Most of the time, I feel like I am speaking into a vacuum, as if no one is listening and no one is caring.

I have to remind myself that people have lives, and on a given day, one thing or another has more priority.

Some friends do check up on me, and I am as always, grateful. I do have a hard time expressing myself when it comes to the question, how am doing? My first instinct is to push people away because I am obviously not doing well–how could I when my future, life as I know it is on the line? I want to pull some kind of tantrum; of course, I don’t. All I want out of friends and allies is that, friends and allies, people to be there for me.

Time is better spent than lingering over the uncertain future.

Though, if you, reader, are interested in supporting immigrants, you should. The most important thing is to show up, speak out.

I am lucky to live in Northern Virginia and near Washington, D.C. Life still goes on. Over the past few summer months, I have become a festival go-er. Street festivals and book festivals are all fair game. The National Book Festival earlier this September was my favorite. I spent most of the time in the ground floor chasing childhood nostalgia.

Fall for the Book, a literary festival sponsored by my alma mater, George Mason, is coming up in October. I have a line up of poetry events on my itinerary.

I’ve been getting around metro and bus, with the occasional car coordination.  This past weekend, I worked on a poetry project with a friend and poet. It is a poem that speaks about our shared experience with learning the English language. When I first proposed the project, I had no idea what to expect, though I tried hard to keep organized.

I can’t wait to share the poem with the world. Collaboration is fun and challenging; it fosters understanding of the self.

There are no poetry publication news other that in August, my copy of Poetry Is Dead finally arrived. My poem, “Losing words,” selected for publication since late last year, is now being read in one corner of the world.

My inbox is otherwise filled with rejections from poetry magazines. To name a few: American Poetry Review, Meridian, and 2River. I’d like to say the sting of rejection eases with each rejection but that isn’t the case. Rejection makes you question the worth of your art. Rejection can make you angry. Rejection simply hurts. I am grateful for the summer campaign I ran, as through the funds raised, I have felt brave and supported.

I hope to find my poems small homes and my poetry larger homes through the forms of a chapbook or a poetry book. I am trying, so, so hard.

With everything that is going on, all I can do right now is fight on.

AMERICA: PLEASE TALK ABOUT ME, BEHIND MY BACK, TOO

American-flag-AmericaI am panicking. It’s already the middle of August, and America isn’t talking much about me. Not many news sites are talking about the me that holds an immigrant “status.”

TPS news is not going viral, which is unfortunate for thousands.

TPS (Temporary Protected Status) is not really an immigrant status.

It’s not a visa. It’s not a permanent or stable residency. In short, it holds little to no claim to citizenship. It’s a temporary program that grants legal protection from deportation for persons who immigrated to America to escape war or natural disaster.

A person doesn’t apply to TPS from their home country; it doesn’t work like a visa. A person comes through illegal means, not through ill wish, but through a need to survive. If a country is indeed inhabitable, Homeland Security adds the country to a small and selective list of TPS designated countries. Then, an individual can apply for a temporary work permit and a temporary protected residency.

A recent news piece about TPS deals with Central America and was published through NBC this past Friday. Before that, there was a similar article from Mother Jones, with an opening quote of “We don’t have a plan B” published early in August. According to NBC news research, Central American TPS holders make up 80% of the TPS population. In 2014, MigrationPolicy.org estimated that there were over 340,000 TPS beneficiaries from countries like Haiti, Syria, El Salvador, and Honduras.

TPS affects hundreds of thousands.

I have been a TPS holder since 2001. Since learning and understanding my legal condition a few years ago, I have lived with mixed guilt and relief. TPS is only renewed if the Secretary of Homeland Security believes that a country is not ready to receive its people back. TPS is then extended for 18 months. The renewal process includes a filing fee of nearly $500 dollars per person.

TPS means you will go home eventually. The thing with TPS is that in many cases, it carries on for several decades—not out of a fault in the system, though many will argue that. The thing with TPS is that its extensions reflect the global instability of third world countries.

Like other TPS holders, I live in constant anxiety about the future.

I share the same sentiment with DACA recipients, and now, they share the same legal experience as me. We do not, though, share the same support. The cultural and political interest is lacking. TPS does not have age limits. The thousands of us that have it are children, students, parents, and grandparents. We aren’t just youth, as are the DACA recipients. And again, many have held TPS for decades, holding jobs and raising families: Americans without citizenship, there but overlooked.

In 2013, I volunteered with CARECEN, one of the few local organizations that works closely with the TPS community. I was not a fighter, then. I did not last long. With each failed protest, with each project’s small waves, and with each human interaction, I felt hope flee my heart.

There are days, TPS has an incredible ability to make me feel alone.

TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua expire in January 2018. For El Salvador, it’s March 2018. News of its renewal (or lack of) is released through a press statement from Homeland Security about six months before its expiration date.

Come September, I’ll be a little closer to knowing my future.

Sometimes, the lack of talk is good. It could mean that TPS is safe. It’s not an important issue. It could also mean that TPS holders are unprepared, easy targets. This is how it happened for Haitians, who are currently campaigning to stay in the U.S. longer. Their TPS status, designated in 2010, was extended for only six months, instead of the program’s usual 18 month renewal period.

I know TPS is not reliable. I know my having crossed the border as a child is a crime. Most TPS holders aren’t asking for citizenship. Like me, they ask for a permanent residency because despite our lack of legal certainty, we are Americans, permanently.

I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t known for years. I am standing on such promising and such dangerous ground. As a recent college grad, my adult life is just beginning. As a recent college graduate with TPS, I don’t know if I will be legally allowed a job in 2018.

The bigger problem is that my America doesn’t know how I fit inside—what will become of me.

Please talk about me.

1,000 miles: step 82

work-week-Reston

Statue at Wiehle-Reston East metro

I got news! I have a summer job, and I survived my first week as an office employee.

I don’t have a briefcase. I travel light. I do have a key card, office e-mail, and a cubicle. I commute taking the bus and metro.

This Friday, through a chance accident of forgetting my stop, I experienced extreme rush hour. Let me tell you–not my cup of tea. People bumping into you. No seats left. Sighing and grumpy people.

Fridays are lovely, regardless. They will be my favorite day for weeks to come. The work I do is repetitive: data entry. There’s stacks of paper, an office keyboard and desktop, office supplies, and a scanner at my desk. There’s a line of paper boats that I’ve made over the course of the week, after I learned to expect delays with the scanner and office software.

What’s most exciting is the interactions with people.

My co-workers have all kinds of backgrounds: they are parents, single ladies, bakers, actors, writers, and so much more I’ve yet to discover. Many of them have been working together for years, or they have been at the company for decades and watched it change and grow. It’s interesting to watch their faces as they reflect on years back. As an incoming employee, it’s nice feeling to get their history.

Though this week felt exceptionally long–waking up early, coming home late–it did go by with a paradoxical and retrospective speed.

This past Tuesday, I managed to host a book chat on Twitter with Booked For Review, opening the first #B4RTalks for #31DaysOfBooks. That, too, went by quickly. If you haven’t read my young adult book reviews, visit bookedforreview.com

I also squeezed in time to make final edits to a poetry submission with a due date of today. Since meeting my fundraising campaign goal, I’ve submitted to three literary venues and anticipate many more magazines and journals. There’s a lot of competition, but I genuinely believe in my poems and because of the campaign, I know other people support my work. I’m developing a Pinterest Board for published poems and can’t wait to share in the near future.

Lotus scene

A summer scene with lotus at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

My busybody self is finally occupied.

I’ve met new people and new terms. The week ended with volunteer work with local youth, who themselves are planning volunteer work. My flower-enthusiast self is satisfied; I took my first visit to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. This weekend kicked off their festival of lotus and water lilies.

Though I’ve missed some news headings, some sleep hours, and some me-time, I couldn’t be happier.

The office job has helped me open a new chapter in my life. This chapter is headed toward opportunity.

 

 

1,000 miles: step 81

The graduation glow doesn’t last forever. The pride, though, persists. I’ve framed one or two graduation pictures, and I’m still in awe at my large, vertically shaped diploma which confers me, Claudia V. Rojas, a Bachelor of Arts in English with recognition.

Now let’s get down to business and ask the real questions. Here is a recent interview I conducted with Claudia Rojas:

What’s the best part about being a college graduate?

It’s the new sense of time. I don’t have to worry about turning in an essay any time soon. I’m not stressed about grades. I have a life outside of school. I exist!

Central Park

Central Park, a wonder

I’ve actually done more travel this summer than any previous summer combined. This June, for example, I went to New York City, for the first time ever. I spent a short weekend discovering Battery Park in lower Manhattan, where I saw the Fearless Girl statue and walking around the giant forest of Central Park. Of course, I snapped tons of picture for the Instagram feed!

I’ve explored close to home, too, places I should’ve already known if it weren’t for college and my workaholic tendencies. From visiting an old favorite, Old Town, Alexandria to a new favorite, Arlington’s Crystal City which is bursting with life all summer long. Recently, I took the Silver Line to Reston, which isn’t exactly close to me, but is one of the biggest metro projects in recent DMV history, phase one of the two part project completed in 2014. Yay, history.

What’s the worst part about graduation?

Unemployment, and the fear of long-term unemployment. As a part-time student, I was able to gain work experience while in college. I figured this would make the full-time job search easier. In some ways, it does. I can speak to my work years in cover letters. I have a better sense of what companies and work setting I like and don’t like.

Of course, I figured getting a full-time job in my field, writing and editing, would be difficult. What I didn’t anticipate is my own sense of panic. There have definitely been days where I have questioned my merit as a candidate. Job applications are similar to poetry submissions–they both send rejections your way.

In true Claudia spirit, I have kept going. One of the things that I’ve tried is freelance writing. That’s right, if you ever need a freelancer, find me and hire me on Upwork! I am always on the look for small poetry projects; that’s where my heart is at, after all.

What’s been keeping me busy?

Book sculpture at Library

A library day at my local Falls Church library

Job applications: I’ve been conducting an intense search for hiring companies and researching employee reviews with said companies. At home, at the library, or on the phone, I’ve been searching for editing and writing positions. Internship opportunities. Summer work. You should see my excel spreadsheet.

Poetry: I’ve had time to work on my poetry. In the past, I was organizing poems according to forms, because I was and am in love with forms. Now that I’m out of school (and graduate school will be a few years into the future), I can look at my poems as a whole.

I’ve decided that many are ready to be organized into a collection. Since I’ve been unemployed for over a month, I haven’t been making an income. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free writing workshops in Northern Virginia and publishing webinars. More fortunately, I gained some marketing experience when I created and succeeded with a small GoFundMe campaign. I’m currently working on final edits and submitting to literary venues and contests with reading fees.

Volunteering: I’ve become a contributor with Booked for Reviews (B4R), a blog for young readers. Check out my review for Walter Dean Myers’ Darius & Twig and Dawn Lajeunesse’s Star Catching. Can you tell that I have a soft spot for the young adult genre? Additionally, I’ve been volunteering with a junior youth program at my local library. Though I’ve stopped tutoring, I suppose kids have a way of finding me.

Anything else?

Yes! While I’ve been getting rejections from journals and magazines, I’ve also been gathering a few acceptances. Stay tuned to find out where. Next week, I also have some news, so don’t miss that.

Have a question I didn’t ask myself? Post a comment! Tweet me. Message me. I’m here.

Hey, World: I Am Immigrant and I Graduated College

In the spring of 2012, I unpacked bags and sat on a bed I shared with my mother, a bed inside a room rented through a former friend in the Falls Church area. I had returned from my first year at a small liberal arts school, Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I had returned to stay, with fears of having reached the end of my college years.

Months back, I had sat with my school’s financial aid officer to discuss my financial standing and immigrant status.

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2013 protest. Photo by Claudia Rojas.

Did I have a visa? No, I didn’t. What I had was a work-permit granted to Temporary Protected Status holders, people who enter the country illegally, but who are protected by the U.S. because they did so to escape from natural disaster and war. There were little hopes of attending a school with an annual $45k tuition.

I was slow to understand my scholarship search yielded no results because of my immigrant status. Whether I was a permanent resident or citizen, of which I was neither, was not something I thought about as a child.

I didn’t come into college aware I was in a financial mess; Simon’s Rock was a college for youth with ambition. I was accepted into the 2011 class with a 4.0 high school GPA and without a high school diploma. I wouldn’t need a high school diploma; I would graduate from the college and receive a Bachelor’s Degree. My plan, however, didn’t calculate my naivete about American systems.

While most immigrant students learn and come to understand their status by junior and senior year, when they meet with counselors to discuss their future, or lack of future, I didn’t have those years. I started Simon’s Rock after I had finished sophomore year.

I was impatient and eager. I had filled out paperwork on my own. My counselors and teachers were either too excited or impressed by my goals to ask me the real questions: What do you know about the college application process? What do you know about finance?

After my conversation with the financial aid officer, I spent months in distress. I had to come to terms with the idea that the world wasn’t at the palm of my hands.

Instead, I was at the mercy of my immigrant status.

On August 10th, 2012, the day I turned 18 years old, I took the GED exam. I ranked in the 99th percentile rank in the Language Arts Reading and Writing portions. I made a return visit to Northern Virginia Community College, and was finally allowed to enroll.

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Math at NOVA. Photo: Claudia Rojas

I spent many unhappy classroom hours at NOVA, but I also discovered that my assumptions about community college were unfounded. In the eyes of these college students, I saw perseverance and dreams. I saw potential, saw hope for myself. In 2013, I began a short-lived experiment with social justice, taking part and promoting immigrant protests in Washington, DC.

Before long, I was wishing to stay longer at NOVA. The year I transferred to George Mason University–after Smith College and Georgetown University had rejected my application–I was hopeless.

I had no scholarships. I lived half an hour away from campus. I had to take on a part-time student load. I had tuition bills to cover on my own, after my first year at college drained my mother’s energy and finances.

I hated the struggle my future had become.

It was 2014 and I felt incapable of finishing college. I was working and studying, and maybe I was amounting to nowhere. In the middle of tears, I contemplated dropping out; this on more than one occasion. In the spring of 2016, George Mason University awarded me with a Stay Mason Fund scholarship. I had earned it not because of my academic record, but because I was on the verge of economic despair.

I was fortunate (or misfortunate) enough to have the scholarship renewed for my final year at Mason. There were many difficult moments.

This spring, I was in a car accident–another car ran straight into traffic and hit my car. On that February day, I spent several hours not worried about my health, but about what the insurance agent had said, if a totaled, the car couldn’t be fixed. A day later, it was declared totaled.

IMG_0100.JPGI didn’t know how I would manage school, except that things have a way of working out. Through Uber, Lyft, metro, bus, friends’ cars, and wandering feet, I did it. In spite of my low spirits, in spite of the new presidential administration, I made it.

This past May, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English. Para mami / For mother: for all the years spent in uncertainty and doubt about the college dream.

I write this to remind myself of the journey. I write this to remind myself that the struggle is not over.

This is to remind myself that I am still immigrant, but that I am strong.