Baruch student planning film on undocumented students in CUNY
Preke Radoina runs his hand through his hair, though he is utterly not self-conscious. An actor by trade, his eyes are alight as he animatedly describes his experiences as an undocumented immigrant living in New York City.
Radoina, better known by his stage name Praq Rado, is a senior majoring in marketing the arts. Before enrolling at Baruch College, he attended Borough of Manhattan Community College and Westchester Community College. He waited tables to get by, in between traversing film festivals to pitch his story. Before coming to New York, he worked odd jobs in Italy and Greece. And long before that, he was a shepherd in Albania.
Rado, one of five children, left Albania and his family behind at the age of 16 to pursue bigger dreams and escape religious and political persecution. Though he put in bid after bid to be granted asylum, he was rejected every time. In 2007, he received an order for deportation.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are 11.4 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. In other words, Rado’s is not a singular story.
It seems as though getting by is an endlessly difficult and harrowing task for undocumented immigrants. Some states allow undocumented immigrants to get a permit or a license; New York does not, though it does offer NYCID to compensate. Undocumented immigrants are not technically able to work under federal law. In fact, undocumented immigrants can be refused tenancy by landlords who ask to see the appropriate papers. Rado described it as “living in the shadows.”
Last semester, Rado worked in conjunction with USG to screen Dreaming American, a film based on his own experiences on-campus. Three hundred students were in attendance, many undocumented themselves.
“It was a very moving night, because I had two lawyers from Immigration Equality … [so] undocumented students could ask questions onstage and get answers right away, without them having to pay somebody,” Rado stated.
Immigration Equality is a national organization that provides free legal services to LGBTQIA and HIV-positive immigrants. Immigration Equality is a national organization that provides free legal services to LGBTQIA and HIV-positive immigrants, according to its website.
Emmy Award winner Lee Percy and Oscar Award nominee Barbet Schroeder directed Dreaming American. It also stars Giancarlo Esposito, of Breaking Bad fame, alongside Rado himself as the protagonist, who works as a go-go dancer to survive.
Dreaming American was released in 2011, when it began making the rounds at film festivals across the country. Rado was cautious about traveling for fear of deportation, to the point of devising a fake, legal identity for the sake of promotion, but Rado knew the circuit well at that point. When he received word that his film would close out the Hamptons International Film Festival, he was ecstatic—that is, until the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement arrested him en route.
“I happened to be in LA, and I only had four days … so I got on the train, and I was on social media the whole time trying to reach out to people in the Hamptons so they can come out and see the film. And after three days, the train stopped at five in the morning. Immigration came directly to me and picked me up and took me. I had absolutely no IDs … but they already knew exactly who I was,” explained Rado. He was later taken to a federal detention facility in upstate New York.
Rado enlisted Percy’s help in obtaining a lawyer, who succeeded in re-opening his case not long after. In the end, it took him 14 years to get his papers. He enrolled at BMCC immediately upon receiving his social security number and transferred to Baruch after a year and a half. He is set to graduate after completing the fall semester.
Although undocumented students in New York can apply to and attend institutions of higher education, some may be charged out-of-state tuition if the student in question does not meet the requirements. For Rado, the cost of school was significantly higher without documentation.
Rado is very vocal about his experiences, in spite of the stigma and the heated debate surrounding immigration. His hope is to encourage other undocumented students to come forward, share their stories and build an expansive network of support. Rado’s next project, Dreams Matter, also spearheaded by director Percy, will tackle this project.
This time around, the film will primarily focus on the struggles of three undocumented students, connected by a common thread. Each student comes from a different background, but they all have the same things at stake: their education, their freedom and their right to simply exist in a country that they were not born in. To protect the identities of these students, their names will be changed; they will be played by actors, but their stories will stay the same.
“My tale is more than a labor of love. This is a story that highlights what’s happening to many other people around the world, and I’m proud it’s finally being told,” said Rado.
To fund Dreams Matter, Rado set up a crowdfunding project, which had $300 in contributions of the requested $10,000 as of press time. Students interested in donating can search for “Dreams Matter by Preke Radoina” on Kickstarter. Rado reached out to a number of people within CUNY for support, including Baruch’s own professor, Arthur Lewin.
“Students come to this country—to this city—from every corner of the globe, dreaming of a better life. Education is the key,” intoned Lewin, in the promo for Dreams Matter. “Won’t you help their dreams come true?”