Correction: The original version of this column incorrectly referred to Cinthyia Felix Perez as “Perez” throughout the column.
I first heard about Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix Perez as a member of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, an organization for undocumented students at UCLA.
Tran and Felix, who graduated from UCLA in 2006 and 2007 respectively, were undocumented students who pioneered a national movement, advocating for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act and immigration reform in the U.S. Tragically, Tran and Felix died in a car accident one year ago.
Despite the scale of their impact, many UCLA students do not know about Tran and Felix. UCLA needs to honor their lives in a permanent way to recognize their accomplishments and to educate students about their historical significance.
Before Tran and Felix, the issue of undocumented students was taboo. The two alumnae, who proudly identified themselves as undocumented, brought the struggles of an entire population of people to light. Through their activism, the discourse has gained national prominence, legitimizing the undocumented youth movement and empowering other undocumented youth around the country to fight for change.
At UCLA, Tran and Felix founded IDEAS with fellow undocumented students, which helped to initiate a student movement nationwide and the budding of similar organizations from coast to coast.
Additionally, Tran and Felix helped to provide an educational foundation for the issue of undocumented students. Both were involved in the production of “Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out,” a book that is used in colleges around the country to educate others about undocumented students, said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education.
Tran in particular broke racial stereotypes revolving around undocumented students.
The Vietnamese Student Union recently acknowledged Tran’s efforts by producing a play for its January culture night. The play dramatized the alumna’s life in order to address the misconception that all undocumented students are Latinos, according to Nancy Nguyen, a fourth-year art history student and culture coordinator for the Vietnamese Student Union.
Tran and Felix also mentored undocumented UCLA students who could have gotten lost in the vastness of the UC system. On top of that, Tran and Felix attended Brown University and Columbia University as doctorate students when they died, showing other undocumented and disadvantaged students that graduate school is a possibility.
Though the two women were politically active in advocating for the DREAM Act and addressing the U.S. immigration system, the reason UCLA should commemorate them is because of their value as historical figures.
Campbell Hall put up an altar with photographs and messages for Tran and Felix after they died last year, according to Alfred Herrera, director of the UCLA Center for Community College Partnership. But after a few months, the remnants of the memorial were taken down and given to the alumnae’s families.
On Sunday, the UCLA Downtown Labor Center held a commemoration of Tran and Felix, but such recognition was not visible throughout campus.
Although these tributes initiated by students are appreciative of their legacy, UCLA can no longer delay honoring them.
After 41 years, UCLA finally dedicated a plaque in Campbell Hall last year to Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Jerome Huggins Jr., Black Panther activists who were shot and killed on campus in 1969. Beyond Carter’s and Huggins’ political activism is their lasting mark in history as leaders in the civil rights movement. In the same way, Tran and Felix have left their mark as trailblazers of the DREAM movement.
Of course, part of Carter’s and Huggins’ significance on campus is the fact that they were shot in Campbell Hall. Although Tran and Felix died in an accident on the East Coast, it is not where they died but where they grew to become outstanding leaders that we celebrate in this memorial. It is not how they died that we celebrate, but how they ““ as former UCLA students ““ lived to impact American history and society.
Honoring Tran and Felix through a plaque will help students recognize the two women’s UCLA ties and motivate students to follow in their footsteps as outstanding Bruins. Such a memorial will prevent us from forgetting that once, two UCLA students helped pave the way for a historical movement.