Thursday, May 23

Memorial honors Cinthya Felix Perez and Tam Tran, UCLA alumnae killed in car crash who were advocates of undocumented students’ rights

A memorial was held on Monday to commemorate Cinthya Felix Perez and Tam Tran, two UCLA alumnae and pioneers in the movement for advocacy of undocumented students who died Saturday after a two-vehicle crash in Trenton, Maine.

Tran, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in American literature and culture, and Felix, who graduated in 2007 with degrees in English and Spanish literature, were both undocumented students. Tran was born in Germany to Vietnamese refugee parents and moved to the United States when she was 6 years old. Felix’s family immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1999.

Both women were passionate advocates of legislations such as the DREAM Act, which would allow certain undocumented students to earn legal status, and AB 540, the California state law that allows qualifying undocumented students to pay in-state fees at state colleges.

At UCLA, Felix and Tran were founding members of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, a student group that supports current undocumented, AB 540 students at UCLA.

After graduation, Tran attended Brown University as a doctorate student in American civilization. Felix became the first undocumented student to attend Columbia University when she enrolled in fall of 2008 as a doctorate student in public health after deferring her studies for a year because of financial need.

“It makes me proud that we have students like this who have impacted so many lives,” said Chancellor Gene Block at the memorial. “These two really exceptional students and leaders leave behind the legacy of all they have accomplished here and the inspiration they are to all of us.”

Students packed into Moore 100 to hear family, friends and professors who had worked with Felix and Tran share their memories of the impact the two women had on their lives and in their communities.

In a touching moment, both Tran’s and Felix’s brothers expressed their grief for their loved ones. Tran’s brother Lolly Tran wrote a poem that addressed his sister and demonstrated how being undocumented was part of her identity.

“With all her soul she fought so hard. All she ever wanted was a green card,” he said in the poem. “What a tremendous life, I know we’ll all miss her. I will dedicate my life to my sister.”

Felix’s brother Mark Felix spoke about how his sister never gave up on him and constantly pushed him to reach his full potential.

“This was all so sudden and tragic, I don’t really feel anything. I’m just numb,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll never stop missing her.”

Dana Heatherton, a UCLA alumna, shared how Tran and Felix were never bitter about their undocumented status and the restrictions that came with it. Tran and Felix planned a bon voyage party for Heatherton when she took a trip around the world after graduation, Heatherton said.

“Even though they couldn’t travel on their own, they were so selfless in being happy that I could,” she said. “That’s the type of people they were.”

UCLA faculty and students as well as friends of the family are taking donations to assist Tran’s and Felix’s families with funeral expenses.

Campus community members are also establishing a scholarship fund to help other undocumented students like Tran and Felix.

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