Words By ‘LLERO Editors
“This is about young people who grew up in America…These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
– President Barack Obama
This was President Obama’s response to President Trump’s attempted repeal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The action placed approximately 790,000 of its recipients at risk of deportation. Thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, DREAMers no longer need to live in such fear. If there were ever a doubt of their potential, look no further than Santiago Potes. In 2020 Potes became the first Latino DACA recipient awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, an international program that awards outstanding students from around the world a chance to pursue postgraduate studies at Oxford University.
Considering Santiago’s life and accolades to date it is no surprise. The Miami native has a history of beating the odds. His parents were just 16 years old when he was born. He immigrated to the US from Colombia at just four years old without knowing English. And despite this, or perhaps because of it, he graduated from Columbia University where he studied East Asian and Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
Potes credits his second-grade teacher for laying the foundation of his successes. Marina Esteva, nurtured him and his love of learning beginning in her classroom. The gifted and talented program she ran at Sweetwater Elementary was the beginning of his various academic achievements. “It was just such a rigorous elementary school education,” he told NPR. “It was kind of like an intellectual boot camp for elementary school students.”
Esteve’s boot camp environment forged a true leader. Potes is an active champion and defender of DACA. His writing on legal issues related to the program, including his own case, were presented in a report before the Supreme Court in connection with efforts to help prevent DACA from being invalidated. In the classroom he was a ravenous student. Aside from studying for his bachelor’s the polyglot (he knows nine languages!) was also a teaching and research assistant to various professors in various subjects including physics, philosophy, and neuroscience. He even found time to play violin in the university’s symphony orchestra.
Yet, perhaps most fitting is Potes ultimate career goal. He told NPR, “I wanna be a national security expert working at the Department of State or working as a counselor to a senator. I want to use my academic research to help the United States, ultimately.” His Oxford studies, which will be focused on contemporary East Asia and international politics will surely prepare him.
Sounds like this DREAMer is an American in his heart and mind.