I am Ivan Hernandez, and I was not born in the United States.
I immigrated to San Francisco from San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco, Mexico in 2005 when I was about 5 years old. I do not remember much from my childhood in Mexico. The only thing I remember is riding the fair rides that would come to town every year. I would get to ride them for free because I was “cute”—well, that’s what my mom says anyway.
We moved to the U.S. because I was born with Cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects movement and muscle tone and posture, which is caused by damage to the immature brain as it develops, most often before birth. My parents thought that I would have a better future in the U.S., this country being known for having resources to help people with disabilities.
I started kindergarten at Bryant Elementary School as soon as I arrived. The school put me in an English-only class because the bilingual class was full. This became a huge challenge since I was young and didn’t know what was going on. Everybody sounded different. It felt like I did not belong here. I saw the kindergarten teacher angrily yelling at my classmates and I didn’t know why. I was lucky that most students who were in the class spoke Spanish as well. Even though it was hard at the beginning, I am glad that they put me in English-only class because I learned it faster, and now I feel more confident since I don’t have an accent.
I also didn’t have a wheelchair when I started school. I was confined to a type of stroller and had to be pushed everywhere. A few months went by before I got my manual first chair, a pink one with chipped paint. But it made getting around easier. I now drive an electric chair and am considered one of the best drivers, according to my therapist. I sometimes get asked to help kids who are starting to learn to drive their own chairs.
My life changed In third grade when my mom signed me up for the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco here in the Mission. I was eight when I picked up a camera at the Club for the first time. I was hooked right away.
I didn’t get my own camera until I was in 10th grade. I bought a used camera on Craigslist—a Sony Alpha NEX 5-T. It was a great starting point for me. I now take pictures with a Sony A6300, and shoot mostly lowriders, because my neighbor has two of them, and I think they’re awesome. My new chair is like a lowrider, I can make it drop and lift, hitting switches that make my seat rise up and down.
I want to do more portrait photography because I want to tell more of a story. Interning for El Tecolote made me realize that when going out and documenting events, I had to get peoples’ info for captions.
At Mission Clubhouse—a program of Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco—I was chosen as the 2018 Youth of the Year for being a role model to other kids. That allowed me to meet the Golden State Warriors players and see their NBA championship trophies. I also got to tour AT&T Park carried one of the San Francisco Giants World Series trophies. But the Clubhouse introduced me to is creating beats, which I learned by messing with GarageBand and watching Youtube videos. I am not the best at it yet, but I want to be well known in the future.
One thing that I have learned from the past 12 years is that there are less opportunities for people like me who have cerebral palsy or who weren’t not born in the U.S. It was at age 14 that I discovered what it means of not being a “true American.” That was when I could no longer work at the Boys & Girls Club. I was sad, because I watched everyone else there work with no problem. But my mom told me about this program called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I had to wait a year to apply, but my chance came when I was 15.
As a DACA recipient, I get less financial aid for college and have to pay for more tuition out of pocket. And now with the potential termination of DACA, it’s getting really stressful because I wouldn’t know what to do if I was not able to work any more and became an easy target for deportation. Waiting on whether the supreme court will uphold DACA is not only taking a toll on many of us, it’s making us fight to keep it alive. The first DACA Supreme Court hearings happened on Nov. 12. Many DACA recipients went to D.C. to share their stories.
As a freshman at SF State, I want to help anyone in need by paying back the kindness that was shown to me. I wouldn’t change anything about my life. My hope is to gain from my college education, to use my knowledge for good. And to prove that nothing is impossible.