By Bintia Drame
This year John Jay College is hosting the Chancellor’s Reception and among the speakers is York student Gianni Gustave, a senior French studies major who is sharing his story as an undocumented student from Haiti.
The Dream.US is a scholarship funding program that helps students who are on their way to or attending college. Although Gustave is a college student, he will not be a recipient of the scholarship because of his undocumented citizenship.
Imagine you are at John Jay College right now giving your speech, what is that line or moment of impact you want the audience to really hang on to?
I definitely want to make a statement on how the university can take action in supporting immigrants in the college. CUNY is reflecting the five boroughs and the administration would have to be willing to help these students who are voicing their thoughts. “Dreamers” is a popular term used for people who came here young. To me personally the word is for anyone and everyone who identifies with it and fighting for the same cause. If we focus on our differences, major communication gets lost. We have to come together to make a difference.
How come you don’t have the Dreamers scholarship?
The scholarship applies to freshman and transfer students. When I found out about it not only that the application deadline had passed but I was already in my third year in college.
If you had the chance to, would you go back and change things so that you can be eligible for the scholarship?
I mean they are offering a substantial amount of money. Would I do anything differently? I never really gave it that much thought, but I wouldn’t. I definitely would be working less because I have been paying out of pocket since day one.
Six years ago when you were leaving Haiti to come to school in America, did you ever think about the obstacles that might come your way as an undocumented student?
It was completely unexpected because I came here at the age of 17 and although I came to my relatives’ house, they had to work and weren’t around the house as much. I was also responsible for myself. I had no idea how many obstacles I would have to overcome. I didn’t know much about what the new immigrants were facing because I didn’t have much friends to ask about nor to relate to their stories.
As the years went by, how did you manage to deal with those obstacles?
What made my transition in this country easier, was definitely education and the connection I had with my professors. It eased my way into the American life in general. I’ve always kept a close connection with my teachers from high school and college. They’ve always been my mentors.
You are a senior about to graduate, what makes it so important for you to give this speech?
I am a Dreamer and I want to succeed. I noticed that there are others who are just like me, they have the drive to keep going and the scholarship benefited them. Now what about the students who have that drive but not the means to? With tuition increasing, undocumented students need the help now more than ever.
What makes your story different and apart from others?
I volunteered because I felt that my story could help inspire others to come forward. Also from the donors side, to keep giving money and reach out to a bigger number of Dreamers. It is not easy for Dreamers to tell their stories. I want them to relate to my story, feel my courage and be inspired by it. I feel like my story could contribute to something bigger than myself.
Are you nervous about giving the speech?
At first I was, but I’m ready. I was just working on my outline, my first draft was way too long so I had to do a lot of editing and cutting and I don’t like that. I mean it’s better to have more than less but I had to cut some parts of my story. The more I think about it the more excited I get. I’m trying to replace that feeling of anxiety with excitement as much as possible, as I picture the outcome of the event and how much impact it will have.
How has your perspective on America changed from your previous visits as a tourist and coming to stay as a student?
It was like a dream come true. Every time I would come here and then go back to my country, I was nostalgic and I’ve always dreamed of being an American. I always wanted to go to high school here, experience it and have my own locker like the in Degrassi on T.V. But the reality is when you come and have three months to go, you don’t get to explore much.
Taking into consideration your struggles as an undocumented student and your work hours, would you still say coming to America is a “dream come true” or would you have chosen to stay in Haiti?
No way. I would not go back to Haiti to study. Nothing easy is worthwhile, I have to do whatever it takes to make ends meet. It has been a life lesson. Something my mom always repeated to me was that when you go through hard times and once you pass those hardships, they will eventually be just memories and you won’t have to experience the pain anymore. This helps me get through things.
How do you handle setbacks?
When it doesn’t go my way, I’m very analytical. I try to find out why, I don’t get worked up because it’s pointless. I really reflect and try to see what I could’ve done better, what did not work and try again. I learned that through soccer. It is more than a sport, you learn so many skills besides the physical stuff.
What message do you have for the college as a whole to support Dreamers?
Knowing that York is very diverse, I would want to empower students as much as possible. If we can all unite and leave our differences behind, we can claim and get what we’re asking for. Often time each community is neglected individually for their claim. Each of us come forward with the same issue but we don’t claim it together, that’s why we’re losing our power. There are Dreamers from all races and if they unify themselves, they can get something bigger and a path to citizenship.