Hope and Lessons at Long Island DREAMers Conference

Osman Canales (third from the right) and Dr. Fernández (in the gray suit) with some of the collaborators. (Photo via NoticiaLI)

Osman Canales (third from the right) and Dr. Harold Fernández (in the gray suit) with some of the collaborators. (Photo via Noticia)

It was an emotional day full of lessons for hundreds of immigrant students who attended the Second Annual Long Island DREAMers Conference, in which the message was clear: Dreams can come true.

The massive attendance of more than 500 students from several Nassau and Suffolk high schools at the event – held on Friday, Oct. 14 at Nassau Community College in Garden City – was the result of the hard work of members of the Long Island Immigrant Students Advocates (LIISA), who organized the conference for the second year in a row.

According to LIISA director Osman Canales, the event aims to motivate the teenagers, most of whom are undocumented, to pursue a college degree.

“We are very happy because we had two full houses with students from different Long Island schools who came because they are interested in continuing their education,” said Canales. “Our youths know that there are opportunities available to them and that, together, we can help them gain access to higher education.”

And that is how it went: Students actively listened to the experiences shared by people who, for many years, lived in fear of not being able to fulfill their dreams but who are now professionals in their areas.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Harold Fernández, a renowned surgeon in the United States, system director of surgical heart failure at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore and professor at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.

Fernández, a Colombian immigrant who arrived in the United States as a child to join his parents living in New York, narrated the story of how he was able to be accepted and study at Princeton University even though he was undocumented. He told the teens that his goal to be a physician was always clear and that this is why he turned studying into his passion.

“There are always difficulties along the way, but the reward is always seen after making sacrifices. That is what I want youths to know, because new paths always open up,” said Fernández. “I wouldn’t be in the situation I am today had I not chosen to study, which is the vehicle that can lead you to make all those dreams come true.”

Parents also joined the event, which is expected to continue to grow next year as more organizations get involved, “because education is the foundation for everything and, if we want to have a better society, we all need to have the opportunity to access quality education, regardless of immigration status,” said Ángel Reyes, a member of LIISA.

The DREAMers’ conference, held last week, helped educators to better understand how to guide their students who are about to finish school. Many of the teens in attendance are undocumented, some are recent arrivals and others are beneficiaries of the DACA immigration relief, which grants work permits to minors who arrived as children.

To them, the chance to listen to the speeches delivered by Dr. Fernández and other leaders of Long Island’s immigrant community served as motivation to reflect on their goals and dreams.

According to Patricia Aliperti, 38, a counselor at Hicksville High School, the students’ greatest fear is the future, and they are concerned about what to do with their lives. For that reason, she added, “It’s important for students to be able to hear stories saying that it is possible and that anything can be achieved through hard work and study.”

That is what Alex Robles learned at the conference. The 17-year-old Brentwood High School student said that he is now certain that dreams can be achieved by having clear goals and by working hard to achieve them. “It wasn’t my idea to go to college, but this has motivated me to do it, to do the best for my family and to be an example to my siblings,” he said.

Dani Raquel, a member of LIISA, was in charge of live streaming the event on social media, where hundreds of spectators closely followed the interviews and experiences shared by some of the students.

“It’s wonderful to be able to stand in front of them and tell them that it is possible. Many are afraid. I was at some point too but, thanks to my family, we were able to get out and find alternatives,” said Dani. “It is important that they try to find information and understand the scholarship application process very early on.”

José Ávila, known in the community for his tireless work on behalf of several causes, explained what his daughter’s education means to him.

“We toured a number of schools to find the best education for her. It is our job as parents to find out how we can lead them to that point,” said Ávila. “I invite other parents to join the work that the guys at LIISA are doing and to accompany their children through this process, which will definitely change their lives.”

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