Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, in what is now Uzbekistan, Arthur Rothstein still recalls the challenges of life under a totalitarian regime and the rampant anti-Semitism that went with it.
“We shared a little hallway with an Uzbek man,” Rothstein said. “I remember when I was 7 years old, he would sit out there and smoke and would say, ‘As soon as the Russians leave, I will be the first to knife your whole family.’”
His challenges didn’t end there. Though Rothstein and his mother were able to immigrate to the U.S. as political asylum seekers, they still faced linguistic, cultural and financial barriers when they arrived.
Now Rothstein is a successful nurse practitioner at NextCare Urgent Care with his own family and home in Scottsdale. When he met Jose Sandoval, a 23-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipient who works for NextCare as a medical assistant, he saw so much of himself in the young man. He started mentoring him and eventually helped Sandoval set up a GoFundMe campaign when Sandoval’s college tuition nearly tripled in April.
“I remember what it’s like when you first come here,” Rothstein said. “I was also raised by a single mom and got no assistance from the government.”
The two met roughly a year and a half ago on one of Sandoval’s first days at NextCare. As time went on, Rothstein noticed Sandoval’s work ethic, punctuality and consistency.
“I guess he sees how I work,” Sandoval said. “If I don’t understand something, I’ll ask him or let him know about a patient’s vitals so he can go and attend to them.”
Rothstein took Sandoval under his wing and encouraged him to get a degree so he could someday obtain a better position in the medical field, paying forward the emphasis on learning that his own Jewish background had ingrained in him.
“My mom had to work two jobs as a single mom so that we could rent a small apartment in a better neighborhood so that I could go to a better high school,” Rothstein said. “I know a basic priority for a lot of immigrants is just to survive. Education becomes a longer and loftier vision, and also if you come from a family where no one has gone to college before, that may not be valued or encouraged.”
Eventually, Sandoval enrolled at South Mountain Community College, becoming the first person in his family to pursue higher education, and was accepted into the school’s Bilingual Nursing Fellowship Program, which he’ll start in the fall. He has already begun taking prerequisites, hoping to enroll in a state college to pursue his bachelor’s degree once he obtains his associate’s.
Getting an education hasn’t been easy. Unlike Rothstein, who was able to obtain financial assistance from the government as a legal immigrant, Sandoval, as a DACA recipient, is not eligible for such financing. But through budgeting and frugal living, Sandoval was able to save and cover the cost of tuition. That is, until April, when the Arizona Supreme Court revoked in-state status from all DACA recipients, almost tripling tuition costs for students like Sandoval overnight.
“I had already paid what I thought I was going to be paying and they just changed it,” Sandoval said. “I kept receiving these emails to make more payments, because in order for me to enroll for the fall, that needs to be paid. Right now, that’s the struggle, to pay that off.”
During a shift one day after the change, Sandoval told Rothstein he was considering taking a break from school for a few semesters to save money. Rothstein argued Sandoval should continue taking classes, which is when they came up with the idea of a GoFundMe campaign.
“He sees the potential in me, so he wanted me to keep going,” Sandoval said. “He helped me set up the page. We had to pick pictures and give information about why I’m pursuing my degree. I believe I can make a difference by becoming a registered nurse, since there’s not a whole lot of people that speak Spanish and English in hospitals or clinics.”
The campaign page is under Rothstein’s name, and features photos of Sandoval and a call to action from Rothstein: “My co-worker Jose Sandoval is a dreamer (DACA),” Rothstein writes. “This young man is talented, responsible, hard-working and kind. He is the youngest of 10 children and he is the first in his whole family to go to college. He works a low-paying, full-time job as a medical assistant with hopes of one day becoming a registered nurse. He is diligent and caring, a good son, a good brother, a good uncle.”
Since it started in May, the campaign (gofundme.com/helpdreamer) has only received two donations totaling $337 — a fraction of the $26,487 goal. But Rothstein continues to encourage Sandoval to stick with it.
“His future is still somewhat uncertain, but despite the uncertainty, he’s pursuing it,” Rothstein said. “I think that’s one of the definitions of hope in the face of fear.” JN