By Emily Lapinski
Elaine Low, ’07, is co-writing a TV series based on her experiences as an undocumented student. The characters in the series face difficulties that Low and hundreds of thousands of other undocumented teenagers face.
“Knowing that you’re undocumented is devastating,” said Low. “These individuals feel limited in what they are able to do. They can’t apply for financial aid, they can’t study abroad, they can’t get their driver’s license and they can’t even do something as simple as get a part-time job at an ice cream shop in the mall. Things that all of their classmates are doing they can’t do.”
The series, which premieres at The New York Television Festival on Oct. 22, is Low’s first collaboration with a professional writer and producer.
Daniel Hsia, producer and co-writer, said: “Immigration is a big theme in my work and I happened to be devouring news articles about undocumented immigrants. When I read Elaine’s original screenplay, I was hooked. I asked Elaine endless probing questions about her experiences as an undocumented teenager and her answers illuminated to me the incredible psychological and emotional toll it takes for undocumented youth just to get through a normal day.”
The first season, which contains 8 short episodes, will be posted online after the premiere in New York. “If we’re lucky, we’ll get a chance to write and produce season 2,” Low said.
The series is designed to reach out to all people, not just those who are undocumented. Hsia said, “I think this is an important story not just to undocumented immigrants, but to all Americans, especially those who don’t think immigration is an issue that touches their lives.”
Although the show’s main character finds out she is undocumented when she applies for a driver’s license, Low said she does not remember when she found out about her immigration status: “I just remember not knowing and then knowing. It’s something that I’m not used to really talking about yet. I’ve never really tried to put the experience into words before I started working on the pilot…The most difficult part was trying to find the words for the things that I had tried so hard not to talk about for so many years.”
Low grew up in Chicago and graduated from Dominican in 2007 with a journalism major and a philosophy minor. Low said: “I’m enormously appreciative of DU’s generosity and the guidance of great professors like Jenks. If I hadn’t earned a presidential scholarship, I don’t think I would’ve been able to afford college at all. While I’m not sure if the administration was ever fully aware of my status during my time there, I’m grateful that the university offered a merit scholarship that was open to all students, regardless of status.”
A year after she graduated Dominican, Low moved down to Los Angeles and continued her journey as an undocumented young adult. “When I got to LA, I still was unable to work,” said Low. “All the work I did was pretty much writing for free, which is what you do when you want to get a byline and get your stuff out there.”
The hard work Low put in has proved to be well worth it. She currently works as a reporter for Investor’s Business Daily and is also the co-editor of MochiMag, an online magazine focusing on empowering Asian American women.
Low’s advice for undocumented students at Dominican is pretty simple: “I don’t know if this is good advice but this is what I did. I worked hard, I studied hard and I just kept hoping for the best. When you focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the best thing you can do.”