Released in 2014, Mary Mazzio’s “Underwater Dreams” is a documentary which tells the story of four high school students of Mexican origin who manage to win the first prize in a national underwater robotics competition after competing against prestigious colleges such as MIT. This documentary focuses on the story itself, but also provides an insight into the problems that the students of the Carl Hayden High School have to face every day. In particular, these students, most of whom are the sons and daughter of Mexican immigrants, face gang violence, poverty, prison and even deportation, as many of them are undocumented. However, these young people, who lived in America for most of their lives and consider themselves American in any other way than paper work (Mazzio), dream of accomplishing great things and becoming someone important after graduating.
The film tackles the issue of undocumented students, whose talents and skills are wasted because many of them will not go to college. Of the four boys who won the competition against MIT, three do not manage to finish college and one has himself deported in order to re-enter the country legally and to manage to accomplish his dreams. This highlights a great injustice in the American education system, where young people who lived their entire lives in the United States, are denied a bright future based on the fact that they are not American citizens on paper. In particular, after the adoption of Proposition 300, the problem became even worse because most Mexican students in Arizona became unable to study, not having the possibility to pay for the high tuition fees. For this reason, the Dream Act became a beacon of hope in the eyes of many of these students who dream to finish college and have great careers.
The Dream Act is particularly meant to provide a solution for undocumented high school graduates but who are not able to continue their education due to their legal status. According to Mahony, the Dream Act would help approximately 1, 2 million students to finish college and also offer them path to citizenship. As Mahony explains, today many Mexican youth are brought up in American schools and have an American identity until they graduate from high schools, but then, are rejected by the society and denied the opportunity to contribute to the society (Mahony). Although not perfect, this law contributes to improving the chances of these students to a better future than their parents had.
In the film, these students were on an inferior position not only because of their ethnicity, but also because they had fewer resources than colleges such as MIT, and lower levels of knowledge. The students and teachers speculate that the jury may have taken this into consideration when grading their work. However, the prize was much more important for Carl Hayden than it would have been for MIT and helped to change the students’ perception of themselves, and sense of worthiness for many generations to come. In Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin, undergraduate Abigail Fisher brought a suit against the University of Texas for its race-conscious admissions. Fisher believed that race criteria stopped her from entering the university, and that she was not given the same opportunity to enter the university because she was white. However, the Supreme Court established that the university’s affirmative action policy was narrowly tailored to achieve the goal of diversity (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin). In this case, as in the film, the admission panel takes into consideration that underprivileged students may not have had the same resources to study and therefore, their performance must be judged according to this reality. These policies are necessary as long as educational inequity exists in America, with some students having access to higher quality of education than others, and with so many minority teenagers being forced to work in order to support themselves in high school, rather than focusing on study entirely.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin 758 F.3d 633 (2014). The Supreme Court of the United States. 2014. Web.
Mahony, Roger, Cardinal. The Dream Act: We All Benefit. Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy. 459(2012):n.p.
Underwater Dreams. Dir. Mary Mazzio, prf. Michael Pena. 50 Eggs Films, 2014.