Angel Silva talks shop like the journalist he is.
Sitting last month in the office of El Vaquero, the student newspaper at Glendale Community College, the 20-year-old described traveling to Sacramento to cover the March in March protests, staged by college students in opposition to cuts in education funding.
His foray into journalism started while he was at Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley. There, he took half a dozen Advanced Placement classes while maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average and working for the student paper.
Silva has subsequently logged three semesters as a staff writer and editor with El Vaquero. In October, he won two of 20 awards that the staff brought home from an annual conference hosted by the southern division of the Journalism Assn. of Community Colleges.
Still, Silva may have climbed as high as he can on the El Vaquero masthead.
Born in Tlalnepantla de Baz in northern Mexico City and brought to California as a baby, his immigration status was never more apparent than last spring when he set his ambitions on the paper’s most coveted job, editor-in-chief.
It pays $10 an hour up to 25 hours a week, allowing the student journalist to focus on El Vaquero without worrying about an off-campus job. And like at other student newspapers up and down the state, the position can be an academic and professional springboard.
Silva had mentally prepared for disappointment, but the outcome was no less frustrating.
“The issue arose that I was undocumented, and since the editor-in-chief position is a paid position, and it is a federal work-study program, I couldn’t apply for it,” he said.
Michael Moreau, faculty advisor to the paper, was forced to give him the managing editor position instead.
“He has some authority and he is utilizing his skills,” Moreau said. “But he just doesn’t get paid anything because we can’t give him any money, which I am sure he could use.”
Silva is one of 400 undocumented students — often referred to as AB 540, or Dream Act, students — enrolled at Glendale Community College. He said his experience has not weakened his passion for journalism, but it has fueled his engagement with immigration issues. He has become increasingly involved in VOICES, an on-campus student organization focused on immigration, as well as the Coalition for Human Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and the California Dream Network.
Silva closely studied an executive order issued by President Obama in June that allows some undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to apply for two-year work permits. He was in the CHIRLA office on Aug. 15, the day the application — which does not provide a path to citizenship — went live.
The lines of young people seeking assistance in filling out the paperwork stretched three blocks long, he said.
“I was one of those people who had mixed feelings about it,” said Silva, who plans to file his own application in the coming weeks. “I understand you can’t please everyone, and I understand this was a good step, but at the same time it falls short of providing what is really needed in this current immigration climate, which is comprehensive immigration reform.”
His is one of a chorus of voices championing a similar message. And it is gaining momentum following Obama’s reelection, thanks in part to overwhelming support from Latino voters.
Silva said he is loath to see immigration reform batted about like a political Wiffle ball, but is looking forward to the day when he and his peers have a place to officially call home.
“You hear this a lot with people that are undocumented — they say they are not Mexican enough to go back to Mexico, but they are not considered American enough to stay in America,” Silva said. “It is that idea of a split identity that most people have with being undocumented.”
In the meantime, he is focused on El Vaquero — the final issue of the semester comes out next week — and on his classes. Silva plans to transfer to Cal State Fullerton or Cal State Northridge in the fall.
“I don’t think anyone should squander the opportunity to pursue an education,” Silva said.
No one could accuse him of that.
MEGAN O'NEIL is a former education reporter for Times Community News and current graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.