By Rachel Gross
Thien “Lolly” Tran, 25, an undocumented Vietnamese student who goes to community college in Santa Ana, isn’t a big biker. He doesn’t even own one.
But that won’t stop him from biking more than 500 miles from UC Berkeley to UCLA over the next nine days as part of a student demonstration for immigrant rights, called the “Tour de Dream.” He’s one of 26 students participating in the event, meant to raise awareness and support for the federal Dream Act, a contentious bill currently stalled in Congress. His sister Tam, a UCLA grad and avid immigrant rights activist, had been urging him to do the bike tour for two years before she died in a tragic car crash in May.
“She asked me to do it again this year,” he said. “Really I was just going to turn it down again, but when she passed away, I felt like I just had to do it.”
The bikers, who left this morning from the Berkeley campus howling “Dream Riders!”, are pushing for the Dream Act to be separate from the larger immigration reform bill, according to organizer and UC Davis student Nayelli Casarrubias.
The bill would allow around 700,000 students nationwide to qualify for potential residency status, The New York Times reported last Sunday. It would apply to students who — like Lolly — came to the United States before age 16, have graduated from high school and have completed at least two years of college or military service.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has repeatedly vetoed the California Dream Act, which focused on allowing undocumented students to qualify for state financial aid, since 2006 (as of June, the bill is on his desk once again). But the federal version has been getting a lot of attention this year, due in part to frequent student protests at college campuses like UC Berkeley.
Lolly, whose parents are Vietnamese refugees, was born in Germany but came to the U.S. at age four, meaning he is not a citizen of any country. Though his personal story is unique, his citizenship status is typical of many young immigrant students, Nayelli said.
“They feel like this is their homeland,” she said.
She added that many students are not even aware they are undocumented until they are in high school.
“Some parents try to protect their children,” she said. “They won’t find out until they’re filling out their college applications, and need to enter their social security number.”
Lolly, who hopes to transfer to UC Davis next fall, is riding his sister’s old bicycle down the coast of California. Although he’s been training for just two months and has never ridden more than 30 miles, he’s confident he’ll make it to UCLA.
“I think I have all the inspiration I need,” he said.
Here’s the bikers’ schedule:
1st day: 54 miles, UC Berkeley to San Jose
2nd day: 44 miles, San Jose to UC Santa Cruz
3rd day: 46 miles, UC Santa Cruz to Monterey
4th day: 72 miles, Monterey to King City
5th day: 66 miles, King City to Paso Robles
6th day: 57 miles, Paso Robles to Guadalupe
7th day: 75 miles, Guadalupe to UC Santa Barbara
8th day: 57 miles, UC Santa Barbara to Oxnard
9th day: 54 miles, Oxnard to UCLA