This story is part of “At Risk in the Trump Era,” a four-month investigation by USC Annenberg advanced radio students, exploring how vulnerable communities across Southern California react to the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. The series profiles individuals burdened by new worries — looking for work, signing up for school, or even deciding whether to publicly express their sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

Stefanie De Leon Tzic brings us a story about Alvin, a young Indonesian Dreamer. He says being Asian and undocumented has been one of the most isolating experiences of his life. He asked us to use only his first name to avoid putting his parents at risk.

Colorful Hot Wheels collector cars, some in their original packaging, are scattered around Alvin’s room. On his desk, a matchbox display case with his favorites — hot rods, coups and convertibles. But none compare to his most valuable possession, the Nissan 240SX — his real car.

Alvin has always loved cars.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t even play with, like, action figures or anything. The only toys I touched were toys that had wheels with them,” he says.

Five years ago, he couldn’t drive his car without the constant fear of getting pulled over, getting his car taken away, or even getting deported. That’s because Alvin is an undocumented Dreamer. He has temporary protection from deportation under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

But President Trump has sent mixed signals about Dreamers, and Alvin worries his protection could be taken away.

“Not having Deferred Action is like a roadblock for me to even want to drive a car because I don’t want to get in trouble with the cops,” says Alvin.

A display of Hot Wheels toy cars from Alvin’s collection. He says that from a young age, his only toys were ones that had wheels. (Stefanie De Leon Tzic)

His parents brought him to the U.S. from Indonesia when he was 2. The family overstayed their tourist visas.

They wanted to escape the poverty that surrounded them back home. Alvin’s dad also wanted to leave the toxic environment he grew up in. He was physically abused by his parents for most of his life. Alvin says his dad sometimes has flashbacks.

When his parents first arrived, they didn’t know anyone. Just a faraway “friend of a friend” who owned a restaurant in Los Angeles and was also Indonesian.

“We actually lived at the restaurant for about three months. My parents worked at the restaurant during business hours and at night we would go up to the attic and sleep,” recalls Alvin.

For decades, the family lived in the shadows. His parents kept their heads down and worked to put Alvin through school.

Alvin poses in front of his car, a Nissan 240SX. He’s dreamed about owning one ever since he was a child. DACA allows him drive his car without the fear of getting pulled over and getting deported. (Stefanie De Leon Tzic)

When Alvin was in high school, he began looking for legal help so the family could try to adjust their immigration status. He says it was hard to find resources for undocumented immigrants who weren’t Latino.

“You go to lawyers and they’re all like, ‘Oh yeah, we have this support system for you and especially we can cater to you if you speak Spanish.’ What about us?”

The attorneys told him there was nothing his family could do. They didn’t have any family members that could petition for their residency. Even if they did, waiting for a visa could take decades. Just like for immigrants from Mexico. But Alvin didn’t feel like he could connect with the Latino community.

“It sucked especially because, like, you go through all these struggles, and you can’t really feel like you identify with other folks who also go through that struggle, so you just kind of, like, stay in your own pocket of [the] world,” he says. “It’s like you’re a double minority.”

One of many Hot Wheels toy cars from Alvin’s collection sits on his desk at work.
One of many Hot Wheels toy cars from Alvin’s collection sits on his desk at work. (Courtesy of Alvin)

But DACA changed his life.

“To be real, it probably has been the biggest life-changer for me,” says Alvin. “It’s not just a work permit. It’s literally the freedom of being able to go out there and do [things] without being scared to get caught.”

Now in his late 20s, Alvin works as an accountant for a car company and is the sole provider for his family. He says his aging parents have a hard time doing manual labor in restaurants anymore. But he also doesn’t want them to risk a workplace immigration raid now that Trump is in office. DACA protects only him from deportation. Not his parents.

After Trump’s inauguration, he took his parents to a “Know Your Rights” forum to prepare for what to do in case ICE agents show up at their house.

It’s hard for Alvin to imagine what would happen if he and his parents were to get deported. He doesn’t feel like Indonesia is home, and he doesn’t want his dad to go back to the environment where he experienced such trauma.

In the meantime, he finds comfort in car culture.

He hangs out at an auto body shop, tinkering with his car. Most of his buddies there are African-American. When he’s around them, he can forget about his immigration woes. Even if it’s just for a moment. Because being undocumented is just one part of who he is.

‘When You’re Undocumented and Asian, You’re Invisible’ 20 June,2017Sarah Craig

  • virgil
    Great!!! The 50 millionth “report” on immigrants fearing deportation. Hey here is an original idea—don;t enter or stay in the USA illegally and you won’t have to worry about deportation.

  • codobai

    Unfortunate as these scenarios may be the question one has to ask is where is the line to be drawn? His parents are at fault to put themselves and their child in this predicament. Will they then pay for the child’s naturalization?

  • John

    No you are not invisible as this is yet another of these poor immigrants who always “hide in the shadows for fear” yet mange to get more attention and free publicity than the Kardashians. Another of these feature stories by the elitist liberal media. The California Report should be renamed the Illegal California Report that is all this show and most of this station covers. Never covering other sides to immigration not ever mentioning the Shaw, Bologna or Steinle families to name only a few. All the tax dollars supporting illegals. No way do illegals pay more in taxes than they take in benefits. Illegals with high school or less education coming to expensive California having kids are paying more in taxes then they take in benefits? Really KQED show the proof. How about analyzing the housing shortage we would have if all the illegals who the Board of Stupidvisors protects with subsidized rent and tax breaks to buy homes were not here? As a legal U.S. citizen I am treated as if I do not exist or matter but I do get to work and pay the taxes! Oh and I must also comply with all laws of California and the United States

    • KOinSF

      I read your reply to me on the other thread before you deleted (Or KQED deleted) it John. You must be so unhappy, you constantly whine about how unfair life is to YOU. Are you religious? Maybe read Sermon on the Mount and chill.

      • John

        No doubt it was deleted by KQED. KQED does not believe in “free speech” much like UC Berkeley and the liberals. KQED only allows views that support their agenda and the push for entitlement mentality of illegal immigrants. Blame white man it is you and this diatribe of hate and incessant whining about he white man. For being a pro-illegal immigrant and feminist I guess you have no issue with what happened to Kate Steinle. Yet another one of your hypocritical stances

  • Rachel Josephine Hassell

    Thank you Alvin. I represent dreamers at my university. I have several Asian undocumented/DACA students who can benefit from your courage. Thank you for speaking out and sharing your story. I hope you continue to shine and move forward regardless of the ignorant voices on this comment section. I will continue to stand with you and others like you.

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