Lead DREAMer Tells Story


Rodney Fequire

Tereza Lee talks about her life as a DREAMer.

The person generally recognized as the founder of the DREAM movement, Tereza Lee, came to the Hive to talk about her personal experience as a former undocumented immigrant.

Fr. Edwin Leahy, O.S.B., introduced Lee in her Oct. 23 talk by giving his own speech on the country. “We are all immigrants,” he said, “The only non-immigrants are the people who lived here from the start.”

The acronym DREAM stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.

It is a bill that would enable a conditional residency for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to go to college.

Lee grew up undocumented, she said, in the big city of Chicago, Illinois. Her parents are Korean and grew up in the aftermath of World War II and the Korean Conflict. They moved to Brazil where Tereza was born. They moved again to the U.S. for better opportunities. Here, they struggled economically because they came here illegally, stayed here, and lacked higher education. They lived in a damp, cold, and vermin-infested basement. Her brother was born in the U.S., so was therefore a citizen.

When Lee was 7, her father told her that their family– which, beyond Lee, included her mother, father, and brother — were living illegally in the country. He told her not to say a word about their status. She lived with that secret her entire childhood.

Lee attended the Chicago public schools and was a scholar. She won spelling bees, music contests, and earned perfect attendance. Once she got to high school and still performed well, it was time for her to start applying to colleges. Unfortunately, she was undocumented so she didn’t want to expose her secret. She decided she wouldn’t go to college. One of her teachers asked her why she lacked plans for higher education, and she finally opened up. Her teacher wanted to support her, and this led to the creation of the DREAM Act.

Lee and her teacher contacted a U.S. senator who fought for Tereza’s right to go to college. They were able to win her that right. Other secret illegal immigrants then went to the same Senator to try to join on the bill.

Lee reflected on her experience as an undocumented person and the struggles and unfairness she had to live through. She decided she would go on to try and build support for the DREAM Act for all immigrant children.

One of the students who attend St. Benedict’s also suffered much, due to his undocumented parents. Kevin Calle, who himself is a citizen, still struggled having undocumented parents. His parents couldn’t get proper jobs and had to drive unlicensed, because they couldn’t apply for a state license.

They finally got their residencies this year.

“I constantly lived in fear that I would come home and my parents would be deported. I didn’t feel safe outside and was always holding our secret,” Kevin said. “I thank God that I’m finally done with those issues.”

Kevin is happy his parents are documented and that they can finally visit their family in Ecuador.

Tereza married a U.S. citizen and is now a citizen herself. Tereza is currently in the Manhattan School of Music, studying for her PhD.  She came to St. Benedict’s Prep and showed her talents at Convocation to the middle and high school divisions. She plays the piano professionally and performed a piece by Chopin called “Fantasie-Impromptu” in the C sharp minor scale.

Rodney Fequire
Tereza Lee plays the piano in Conlin Auditorium.