Mathias Lemos Castillio is just like many other kids who grew up in Madison: intelligent, talented and goal-oriented with dreams of going to college and beyond. But unlike most children who grow up in Madison, Castillo is undocumented. His parents brought him to Madison when he was 7-8-years-old from his native Uruguay.
“I left at an age where I still remember a lot of my culture from back home,” Castillo said. “But I wasn’t able to experience the whole thing. I was able to experience it to the early age. I think it is a God send that I can still speak the language, speak the dialect and still have a passion for the culture, the Latinx culture.”
Castillo knew that his status was something that made him different from other children, but it wasn’t something that was talked about.
“That was something that we didn’t think about,” Castillo said. “It was almost a taboo. I sort of grew into it and owned it as a part of my identity. Among my friends, I was not afraid to say it. The fear was the one thing that I didn’t want to hold me back from anything. And I noticed that the fear was holding me back from a lot of things, even today. I try to get past that because it’s not something that I want to live with. I want to show the people around me who are in the same situation that fear is not something they should run away from. They should try to face the fear. Yes, there are consequences, but you can’t let it control your life.”
While he was in high school, Castillo applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, a status that would allow Castillo to pursue most on his dreams, although he didn’t realize that at first.
“DACA opened the door for me,” Castillo said. “If it wasn’t for that and the timing, I’m not sure where I would be at right now. I managed to get DACA at the start of my senior year, which allowed me to start applying for schools and start applying for scholarships that required a social security number. If it wasn’t for that, I would have had to have taken an extra step. DACA made it a lot easier for me. I was able to apply. I was able to get a driver’s license. I was able to get an actual job. And those things actually helped me grow. And if it weren’t for DACA, I wouldn’t be able to be in college. I’m required to have a Social Security number. There is a lot that goes with that.”
One thing that DACA didn’t do for Castillo was make him eligible for in-state tuition at UW System universities even though he and his parents were Wisconsin taxpayers.
“If I went out-of-state, I would have to pay out-of-state tuition,” Castillo said. “But if I went to a public school here, I would have to pay out-of-state tuition. I was not financially stable. My next option was private school. Through my research, I found out that they were more likely to offer scholarships. I applied to Marquette and Edgewood. I still applied to a few public schools just to see. I didn’t want to close those doors. I came across the Community Scholars program here at Edgewood. Once I was accepted, I made it my goal to apply for this program. In March of my senior year of high school, I found out that I was one of the scholars.”
And attending college at Edgewood continued to open up doors of opportunity for Castillo.
“As I grew older, here in college, I was able to take out loans,” Castillo said. “I was able to buy a car. I was able to travel. The first time I got on a plane since I came to Madison was my sophomore year in college and I traveled to California for a conference. That was something. Without DACA, it would have been a lot harder to travel. I had a passport, but you never know if you are going to be stopped. I traveled to Arizona last month. Given the circumstances, without DACA, I would have never done that. With DACA, I was still scared. But it still allowed me to have the opportunity to go places around the States and be able to learn about other communities and people who are activists in California and Arizona.”
It also allowed him to become a leader.
“If it weren’t for the Community Scholars program, I wouldn’t be able to step up to leadership positions that I took here on campus,” Castillo said. “I was president of the Association of Latino and Latina Students here on campus for two years. I’ve been involved on executive boards. Outside of campus, I’ve been able to show those leadership skills because I went here and the Community Scholars program was the one that pushed me to start getting active. I was involved in high school. There were a lot of things to get involved where you are putting together events or a panel. Or you might have movie night where you are just hanging out with other people and learning about topics. As president of the organization, I did a lot of those things. I did a lot over the past three years. And those skills are developed and also helped other people.”
In the future, Castillo plans to become a lawyer or sociology researcher. And most importantly, Castillo plans to give back to the community, a community that has given him so much. So much has been gained by DACA; so much would be destroyed by its removal.