Mario Lio, a graduate of UC Berkeley and CSU East Bay, works as a project engineer at Stronghold Engineering in Richmond. Mario was part of Immigrants Rising’s first cohort of New American Scholars in 2007 and again in 2009. He participated in the Creative Writing Program from 2010 to 2013, served as the Student Support Coordinator from 2011 to 2012, and has volunteered on the selection committee of the New American Scholars Program for more than five years.
How did you find out about our organization?
I was struggling financially, my second year at UC Berkeley. So when I was looking for scholarships, I just did a Google search for scholarships for undocumented citizens and saw E4FC [Educators for Fair Consideration, now known as Immigrants Rising].
After college, I was still undocumented, so I made a living tutoring students in science and math, and then joined the staff of E4FC. I was the first Student Support Coordinator, and my duties included making sure the students’ needs were being met on a social level, an academic level, and a mentorship level.
When I got DACA, I transitioned from E4FC and got my first job as a project engineer in construction, which is what I had gone to school for.
How did your involvement with our organization impact you?
I actually use a lot of the skills I learned at E4FC in my current job, construction management. What I did at E4FC was find solutions to problems, and that translates to many fields. A lot of people commend me at work, and I’m like “Oh yeah, I picked that up from the nonprofit job that I had.”
E4FC was also like a wellness center, a place you go to recharge and meet other people like yourself. The creative writing program was a great outlet for me to heal. I was able to share parts of me that otherwise, I would have kept hidden. I also learned much more about my friends. That experience that we shared during class just solidified our bond.
I’m a gay man, and I also come from a mixed family background. My dad’s Chinese. He immigrated to Peru when he was in his 20’s, and my mom is from Peru. I feel that any time I come into a space that’s for a specific group, a Chinese group, or a Latino group or an engineering group, I’m almost afraid of being myself, that I have to hide my other identities.
But at E4FC everyone is so welcoming. They understand what being in the closet means, or what it means to be hiding from things.
What are your hopes for our organization and community?
I don’t want E4FC to ever go away because even though you might be able to gain legal status at some point, I feel like I never lost my experience of being undocumented. It’s always a part of me, wherever I go. E4FC is always going to be family for me. And for the E4FC family, I just hope we can get through this together. We will pass comprehensive legislation.