Alejandra Lamas on how surviving the Aurora theater shooting helped her get documented
Last year, Lamas and her parents obtained their first Social Security cards -- and their first driver's licenses.
"When I go out now, people ask me, 'Can I see your ID?' I'm like, 'Why, yes, you can!'" she says, laughing. "It feels a lot better. When you don't have those things, you miss out on so many things in life, so many transitions. People don't understand: No, I can't go to an R-rated movie, or travel within the United States, because I don't have an ID. I remember when I was in high school, when I was sixteen, my parents had to tell me, 'No, you can't get a job' -- because it was too much of a risk. It's really a strain to live under that worry that anything could happen."
Now twenty, Lamas is currently in her second year at CSU, majoring in social work and contemplating a double major in criminal justice. Because she and her parents are not yet citizens of the United States, she's ineligible for federal student aid. But her total college bill will be significantly lower following the passage of the ASSET Bill, which Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law in April 2013, on its seventh appearance before the Colorado State legislature. The bill allows undocumented youth with high-school diplomas or GEDs to apply for in-state tuition to Colorado institutions of higher learning. Lamas also receives support from the Denver-based PUKSTA Foundation, which grants financial aid to promising young people, many of them first-generation college students.
Lamas is among the nine young people whose stories compose the heart of Dreaming Sin Fronteras, an original play directed by Jose Antonio Mercado, opening March 21 at North High School. A dramatized series of monologues based on real-life narratives, Dreaming Sin Fronteras explores the immigration issue primarily from the point of view of young, could-be citizens like Lamas, whose lives are directly impacted by legislative action -- and inaction -- on immigration reform.
Dreaming Sin Fronteras includes an original song inspired by Lamas, written by Raul Pacheco of Ozomatli and Shawn King of DeVotchKa, the show's co-musical directors. The production marks Mercado's return to North High School; ten years ago, as a teacher there, he directed Zoot Suit Riots, the focus of a 2004 cover story.
In this week's cover story, "Zoot Suit Riots Changed the Future for Jose Mercado's Students -- and Their Teacher," Laura Bond revisits many of the people involved in that show and reveals how it set the stage for a very unexpected second act.
Now Lamas is starting her own second act.
More than a year and a half after the shooting, Lamas is mostly recovered from her physical injuries. If she spends time thinking about what happened, or what might have happened, that night in Aurora, she doesn't let on. She's got too many other things to think about.
"I've been more about embracing what came of this tragedy happening to me, how it made me grow as a person, what kind of perspective I now have on my life," she says. "If anything in me has changed after going through that and then obtaining legal status, I wonder what I can do to help people who are in those same shoes that I was -- coming out of high school, coming into college, not really knowing what was going to happen.
"Before all this happened, I was so caught up in being ashamed of being an immigrant," she adds. "I didn't really realize there's an opportunity to empower myself. Even though I don't live through the privilege of the American way of life and all its advantages, I'm privileged to know diversity and different ways of life, different populations of people, and to see that even though we live in this society together, we have different cultural barriers. It's a huge privilege to see them through both eyes. Before my life changed, I didn't see so much."