Being undocumented didn’t stop techie
April 14, 2013 6:12PM
Updated: April 15, 2013 2:16AM
For some teenagers, being undocumented brings on social paralysis.
They cannot shake a fear of deportation or a future pocked by the poverty that plagues their parents.
Fabian Garcia fought those fears and made it.
At 18, not long after graduating from Curie High School in 2000, Garcia became a businessman.
He had enjoyed courses in video production at Curie and talked his father into letting him use a credit card to buy $4,000 worth of camera and editing gear, he says.
Garcia recorded and edited videos for weddings, baptisms and Mexican cotillions.
“I was partying,” he says. “Well, I was recording the parties.”
He ended up doing this to pay for college. He couldn’t land a job because he had no Social Security number. Businesses that illegally hire undocumented immigrants often exploit them and pay low wages. Garcia wanted no part of that.
“I had to find ways of surviving,” he says.
His family belonged to Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Back of the Yards on the South Side, and he helped out with janitorial work. The parish business manager became aware that Garcia was computer savvy and struck a deal with him. He could earn a few bucks maintaining computer programs for the church but only if he started college.
He had been afraid to apply, thinking he might be rejected or rebuked for being undocumented.
He registered at Richard J. Daley College and was surprised that administrators made the process simple. They didn’t harp on the absence of a Social Security number or identification.
As he breezed through computer and math classes, a few professors noticed his talents in those subjects. He was encouraged to pursue computer engineering. Meantime, word was spreading among church parishioners about those talents, and small businesses hired him for computer programming. He realized he had more to offer than video production and expanded to computers.
After three years at Daley College, he moved on to Illinois-Chicago. Ineligible for state and federal aid, Garcia paid his own way. The Peace and Education Coalition, a neighborhood nonprofit, helped by awarding him scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 yearly.
I met Garcia through PEC. The organization will hold its annual scholarship fundraising dinner May 9, and actor Edward James Olmos will be a special guest and no doubt a draw.
Yet PEC’s success stories — like Garcia’s — are most meaningful to me. “I’m one of many,” he says.
He graduated from UIC in 2007 without an internship at a high-profile company such as Motorola or IBM. He couldn’t apply without a Social Security number. Constant fear of deportation kept him close to home.
But he had racked up hours of experience with his own business and eventually teamed with a graphic specialist to offer computer programming and Web design. He’s still at it. A few years ago Garcia fell in love and married a Mexican American. He has a green card that allows him to stay in the U.S.
He’s still close to home and active in Back of the Yards. Since college he has maintained computers for a community center.
He has a protege in the neighborhood, a bright, computer-savvy teen.
“My essay when I applied for scholarships said, ‘I want to be successful, have my own business and hire kids from the neighborhood’,” Garcia says. “I’m mentoring someone. Maybe that’s the beginning.”