David Cho: South Pasadena, CA

UCLA’s Drum Major Leads by Advocating for DREAM Act

David Cho is the drum major who conducts the 250-member UCLA marching band with great fanfare in front of 75,000 people at the Rose Bowl. Majoring in international economics and Korean, he maintains a 3.6 grade point average and is on schedule to graduate a quarter early. After emigrating to the U.S. from South Korea at the age of 9, he is the picture of the American success story. He is also facing possible deportation.

Cho didn’t even know he was undocumented until he was accepted to UCLA. That was when his father showed him a letter saying the family’s visa wasn’t valid. He recalls staring at the letter feeling as if his world had turned upside down.

Without immigration papers, Cho can attend school in California but cannot legally work, drive or receive financial aid. He sleeps on a friend’s couch or sometimes at the UCLA library. He tutors SAT students 30 hours a week.

Many in his situation would keep a low profile hoping to avoid discovery. Cho has instead chosen to be a leader in raising awareness of the plight faced by so many similar young people, including many Asian Americans, and an advocate for the DREAM Act. David has spoken out on his campus and in the media on behalf of undocumented students like himself who are seeking citizenship in the U.S.

At first Cho’s parents discouraged him from speaking out, afraid of the attention. But he insisted that, with so many trapped in a
broken system just like him, he had to take action. He said, “Unless our generation speaks out, the politicians won’t tackle it. They have to see our faces.”

David was profiled in a major piece in The Los Angeles Times as the personification of the type of hard-working, successful young people being adversely affected by the current system. He said he was terrified the night before he stood at a rally in Los Angeles for the DREAM Act where he declared so loudly and publicly, “I’m undocumented.”

David has risked deportation for himself and his family. He faces limited job opportunities as he approaches graduation from UCLA this spring. Still, David continues to work with a number of college-aged students who speak to various groups, educating them on the plight of undocumented young people and the need for immigration reform.


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The Freedom From Fear Awards are produced by Public Interest Projects, (PIP).  PIP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that brings together and strengthens the work of philanthropic institutions, donors, nonprofit groups and other public interest organizations sharing a vision of a society that ensures justice, dignity and opportunity for all people.   Statements and activities of Freedom from Fear Award winners do not necessarily reflect the views of PIP.

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