Georgann Yara

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German Cadenas: he has a dream

Photo by Jose Daniel Cadenas

As a teenager living in Tempe, German Cadenas would see Arizona State University students walking or riding their bikes to class as he rode in the car with his mother. 

This is when the cofounder of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition first began to dream.  

“I would tell my mom, ‘One day I will go to this university,’” Cadenas recalls. “My mom would just smile….”

But Cadenas’ lack of legal residency status, personal funds and accessibility to traditional financial aid did not stand in the way of disproving his mother’s belief. Despite the roadblocks to a college education, the native Venezuelan went on to obtain bachelor’s degrees in business administration and psychology from ASU, earning magna cum laude status along the way. This fall, Cadenas is one of seven students admitted to the university’s doctoral program in counseling psychology. 

The determination that got him to this point is what gives him the fuel to come out of the shadows and fight for his dream, and those of others who share his struggles.

“Before I graduated, I didn’t go out that much. You didn’t want to be in a situation where, if anything goes wrong, you might be deported. You lived with extra precaution. I used to be fearful,” he says. “But now, I think people need to know I’ve done it.”

When he was 15, Cadenas, his mother and brother came to visit his father, who was living and working in Arizona. At that time, his parents decided it would be best if they stayed in the U.S. in the wake of the political upheaval and the potential for civil war in their homeland at the time.

“I had a mixture of feelings. I understood I wasn’t going to be able to go back. But at the same time, I was excited. It was a perfect opportunity to become the person I wanted to be and approach different opportunities,” he says.

Cadenas excelled at McClintock High School, where he immersed himself in every facet that would make him the ideal student and college candidate: honors classes, sports, school activities and volunteer work. 

But when an ASU recruiter found out he had overstayed his visa, Cadenas realized that he would be rejected and could not attend the school of his dreams.

“That meant we left everything behind for nothing. It was heartbreaking. It was a tough time,” he says. 

But he remained intent on a goal he felt was within his grasp, if he continued to work for it. And when voters passed Proposition 200 in 2004, it forced him to pay out-of-state tuition. But he was not discouraged.

“I was like a soldier on a mission. I was very focused,” he says. “I was thinking, one way or another I am going to a university because of my dream.”

At Mesa Community College, he earned two associate’s degrees, taking full loads each semester and working 60 hours a week to pay for tuition. On his third attempt to enroll at ASU, he was admitted. He spent his entire savings to pay for his junior year and received a private scholarship that paid for his senior year. 

In 2009, he and his peers founded the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition to advocate for hardworking students who want a shot at being rewarded for their desire to contribute to society. 

Cadenas launched a blog (gofundme.com/germansdream) to help pay for his continuing education and to raise awareness about the issue. If his dream comes true, he will be working as a psychologist, helping others through therapy and research. 

“Right now, I think people need to know … there are many undocumented students here because they want to make this a better country. By sharing our stories, we make progress toward a more unified view of immigration,” he says. “People need to know this. That’s why I’m out and that’s why I’m fearless.”

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