Undocumented and Unafraid: In Memory of Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix
The immigrant youth movement lost two of its leaders on May 15, 2010, when Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix were tragically killed in a car accident at the hands of an intoxicated driver. Tam and Cinthya had both grown up in undocumented immigrant families, and against all odds had graduated from UCLA and entered prestigious graduate schools. Tam was in a PhD program in American civilization at Brown University. Cinthya was in a Master’s program in public health at Columbia University, and she planned to enter medical school.
Tam graduated from UCLA in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in American literature and culture and with Latin, departmental, and college honors. Following graduation, Tam worked at the UCLA Labor Center as a Public Ally. Tam was a teaching assistant for the first course ever offered on undocumented immigrant students, and her story was featured in the UCLA student publication: Underground Undergrads: UCLA Undocumented Immigrant Students Speak Out.
Tam was a gifted filmmaker and presented her documentaries on undocumented students throughout the country. She became one of the leading advocates nationally for the DREAM Act and courageously testified before the U.S. Congressional Immigration Subcommittee in 2007.
After Tam entered the PhD program in American civilization at Brown University, she founded the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition and helped launch the first statewide network of undocumented immigrant youth and students. She mobilized student contingents at marches in Washington, DC, and lobbying visits to the Rhode Island congressional delegation and statehouse. A few weeks after her passing, Brown University posthumously awarded her a Master’s Degree at the graduation services.
Cinthya Felix was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, and at the age of fifteen, traveled to Los Angeles for what she thought would be a vacation trip to Disneyland. In reality, it was an economic survival move by her parents, who wanted to provide their children with opportunities they would never know in Mexico.
Cinthya attended high school and was a brilliant student as well as an accomplished basketball player. Cinthya entered UCLA and was one of the founders of IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Educational Access, and Success), the undocumented immigrant student organization. IDEAS has emerged as a leading national advocate for passage of the federal DREAM Act. In spring 2010, IDEAS was recognized by the UC President and UC Regents as one of two outstanding student organizations within the University of California.
Cinthya graduated with a degree in English literature and minors in Spanish and Mexican studies. She was the first undocumented immigrant student to enter Columbia’s Public Health School. She worked as a graduate student researcher on health care access within immigrant communities.
Tam and Cinthya accomplished more in their short lives than ever could have been expected. Their spirit lives on in the hundreds of IDEAS alumni, thousands of immigrant youth who embraced them as role models, and millions of immigrants who will one day emerge from the shadows and live life without fear. The UCLA Labor Center is currently working with UCLA students to publish a book on their remarkable lives.
See also Wong, Kent, and Matias Ramos. "Undocumented and Unafraid: Tam Tran and Cinthya Felix," Boom: A Journal of California 1: 10-14, doi: 10.1525/boom.2011.1.1.10.