Isaac Felix woke up before sunrise to get to elementary and middle school, only to wait in four-hour lines at the U.S.-Mexico border because he attended school in the United States while living in Mexico.
“Once you cross, you would get there way too early before school opened so (you’d) be sleeping in your car,” said Felix, a third-year human biology and society and Chicana/o studies student. “You’d be eating your breakfast, lunch and your dinner as you’re driving.”
Last month, he co-founded a chapter of Transfronterizo Alliance Student Organization at UCLA, which supports students who have had to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at some point during their educational career.
TASO provides transborder students with a communal space and runs mentorship and educational programs, said Estefania Castañeda Pérez, co-founder of TASO-UCLA and a political science graduate student. For example, TASO’s San Diego State University branch holds lecture series for college students in which speakers describe their own experiences as transborder students.
Castañeda Pérez said she was often late to middle school because she had to wake up at 3 a.m. to cross the border.
“(It took) a minimum four hours, sometimes six hours to cross,” Castañeda Pérez added. ”The middle school didn’t quite understand that the reason I was late was the border.”
Felix said students also have to juggle two languages and two cultures on a daily basis.
“You’re basically leading two lives across two different countries within the same day,” he added. “That in itself can be emotionally, mentally, physically draining.”
Vannessa Falcon, an education graduate student in a joint program between San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University, said she thinks programs like TASO provide a sense of community transborder students need.
“It’s not that we didn’t exist on campus,” Falcon said. “We were there but we didn’t have a place.”
Falcon said she researches how transborder students’ identities are formed by their cross-border education. She said she learned many students feel alienated by their experiences and was inspired to create TASO as an inclusive space for them.
Castañeda Pérez said she was drawn to Falcon’s research and its focus on how the transborder experience affects students’ self-identity, given her own experience crossing the border to attend middle school.
“What happens at the border dictates not only how your day is going to go, but how you view yourself,” she said.
She added despite the struggle of daily border crossings, she wanted to get an American education because of the benefits it brought, such as access to scholarships to attend American universities.
“My mother wanted me to have the opportunity to education that she didn’t,” she added. “I’m the first one (in my family) to go to high school.”
Falcon said she thinks President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric made organizations like TASO more necessary.
“(It) was a timely coincidence,” she said. “Students talked a lot about this hostile environment (created by Trump).”
Kendy Rivera, co-founder of TASO-UCLA and a Chicana/o graduate student, said she thinks organizations like TASO can encourage social and legislative changes that improve the lives of transborder students. For example, she thinks the U.S. should establish a specific student lane at the San Ysidro checkpoint.
Felix said the group hopes to spread TASO to other California universities and establish more chapters at universities in border states, eventually expanding nationwide. He added TASO-UCLA plans to hold a joint conference with TASO-SDSU in May to host undergraduate and graduate student research on transborder students and borderland communities.
“More than anything, it’s creating a safe and inclusive space for the TASO population … and standing in solidarity with other marginalized communities here on campus,” he said.