WINNER'S CIRCLE: Vanessa Castillo and Yenni Diaz

For the past five years, the most prominent progressive organization in Orange County hasn't been the local Democratic Party or even a union, but rather the Orange County Dream Team (OCDT), a group that advocates on behalf of undocumented students, which many OCDT members are. Group members have traveled to Sacramento and the halls of Congress, been arrested, spoken at debates, held workshops teaching undocumented students and their parents how to apply to colleges, and even publicly shamed Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez during an Orange County Labor Federation Dinner last year to co-sponsor a national DREAM Act that would grant amnesty to such students. All along the way, they have distinguished themselves not only through their deeds, but also their uniform: black T-shirts emblazoned with their clever take on California freeways' iconic illegal-immigrant crossing signs; instead of desperate people running across highway lanes, they feature students in their graduation robes and mortar boards, each clutching a diploma.

Helping to lead the charge are Vanessa Castillo and Yenni Diaz, both college graduates (Diaz from UC Irvine, Castillo from USC) who fell into the movement because of their shared experience as Mexican immigrants who grew up in the United States. “I can see that I could have been in the same position as any undocumented student,” Diaz says. “Like stepping through a sliding door, my family could have missed the opportunity to adjust their status in this country in the 1980s, and I could have been a DREAM student.”

Both are happy California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law bills that allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition, but they also stress that the OCDT's mission is far from over. The group continues to push for a national DREAM Act and serves as a gathering point where existing members can help other undocumented students navigate life in the United States. OCDT has also made alliances with other groups in the hope that a coalition will bolster their push toward the DREAM act. “The DREAM movement is important because it is the first time in a long time that a movement is led completely by undocumented students and allies,” says Castillo. “We only want to help make this country better and stronger.”


• Goodwill Store. When Castillo is not wearing her OCDT T-shirt, she's rocking threads found at this shop. “I love finding items to create colorful outfits,” she says. 1800 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 352-7790;

• Golden West College Swap Meet. Castillo tries to go to this weekend flea market as much as possible. “It's the best place to find lost treasures, from records to accessories and clothes,” she says. 15744 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach, (714) 895-0888;

• Sav-Mart Thrift Store. “The best deal to get a little something at a very cheap price,” Diaz says. 2025 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 543-9280.

• El Malecon. This is essentially a licuados place that also sells Mexican snacks such as fruit salads and tostilocos. But what Castillo enjoys the most are the raspados, Mexico's take on shave ice. “They have the best diablitos,” she says of the raspado topped with chile piquin, chamoy, cucumber, mango and jicama. 1708 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 571-0612.

• Reyna Market. It's a small neighborhood carnicería that serves as the home base for the Soho Taco gourmet-taco cart. Castillo does most of her grocery shopping there and enjoys the tacos as well. But what she recommends most are the homemade chips and salsa. “The chips are crispy and not burnt, while all of the salsas are hot, but not too much.” 902 W. McFadden Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 549-1558.

• What used to be the Fiesta Market Place. Diaz has fond memories of “walking down Fourth Street and arriving at Fiesta Market Place, where families and community spent weekends together. I especially enjoyed the kiosk, where my little sister danced many times.” That area, however, no longer exists, as developers have de-Mexicanized it, and Diaz refuses to return. Corner of Fourth and French streets, Santa Ana.

• Noche de Altares. It's the biggest Dia de los Muertos event in Orange County, and Diaz has helped as a volunteer for the past five years. “It's a place where, once a year, you get a taste of traditional altares with the modern culture that Santa Ana has created. A mix of a homeland and a new land in the heart of Santa Ana.”

• Bravo Night Club. Diaz loves this Latino nightclub in Anaheim “to go out dancing cumbia. It's where, if I want, I can go with only a few girlfriends or take the whole Santa Ana crew to have a great time dancing the night away.” 1490 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-2291;

• El Centro Cultural de Mexico. It birthed the OC Dream Team and remains its home. It's “a second home where I have met some of my best friends, created a new family, and where I have experienced my culture away from Mexico full of music, art and cultura,” says Diaz. Castillo agrees, adding, “This is where many great people, events and cultura happen and will continue to happen.”,

• Favorite video-game characters: Castillo goes with Mario from the Super Mario Bros. series because “He was the first video-game character I was introduced to. My cousin was the first of us to have a Nintendo, so we would play all the time.” Diaz, meanwhile, chooses Link, the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda saga. “I love all the mystery, the puzzle and exploring,” she says. “Sounds like my life.”

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