Dreamer, Black Panther actor tells his story, calls for DACA protection


Bambadjan Bamba, an actor and DACA recipient spoke alongside Erin Howarrd of BCTC’s Office of Latino Outreach Services in Memorial Hall on Feb. 7, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Shannon Hickerson

Shannon Hickerson

Actor and Dreamer Bambadjan Bamba, from the upcoming Black Panther movie, owes much of his career to the DACA program.

Bamba and Erin Howard of BCTC’s Office of Latino Outreach Services sat down in front of an audience full of UK students Tuesday night, in Memorial Hall, to co-host a conversation about the undocumented struggle in America.

The ranging topics discussed at the event were mostly serious but overall uplifting. Destiny Butler, a journalism senior, described the experience as “extremely impactful.”

Howard and Bamba’s stories were completely different but both explained the struggles they have seen or have been faced with regarding undocumentation.

The night was mostly centered around Bamba’s personal life story. Students were engaged as he told his story of coming to America from the African country of Cote D’Ivoire at the age of 10.

Bamba spoke in an animated fashion when he described his childhood in Africa. He told UK student’s that, because of the American films and TV he’d seen, he was excited to move to America. However, he added that he “never saw the Bronx on the Cosby Show,” which is where his family initially settled.

Life was hard for Bamba in the Bronx and his family eventually left for Virginia where he had more success in finding his place at school. He discovered his passion for acting, joined the ROTC and was even crowned homecoming king. Everything seemed to be going great for Bamba, until he reached the age to apply for college.

Bamba realized that his citizenship was pending, which meant he was an undocumented citizen and would therefore be disqualified from any kind of scholarship or financial aid. He explained that he didn’t have much help from teachers or mentors at school, which Howard described as being “normal” for many immigrants.

His parents were able to finance his way through an arts college. Bamba eventually became a recipient for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, also known as DACA, after it was passed by the Obama administration.

In an interview with the Kernel, Bamba said that DACA “allowed me to basically have legal status in America… and it’s because of DACA that I have been able to work on the magnitude of a project such as Black Panther so it really means the world.”  

Even though he is a proud recipient of DACA, he expressed the shame that came with the stigma of being an illegal immigrant.

“All my life I really kept my status private,” Bamba said.

He also described how revealing his undocumented status in Hollywood would have made him vulnerable to being distrusted and less likely to be hired for roles.

After finding out about the possible end of DACA, Bamba knew he had to do something. He said he feels like we are going “back in history,” but mostly he fears that he could be deported and separated from his wife and daughter.

Bamba recently came out as an undocumented person just before the release of Black Panther, a highly anticipated movie, which he has a role in.

He intends to use his platform to say that immigrants are just like everyone else, and DACA recipients should be granted protection from deportation.

“These are very volatile times, especially for Dreamers or people with DACA,” Bamba said. “We’re still uncertain about our future and what’s going to happen.”

Bamba has been recognized for his efforts and has the support of his family and friends. As for the public and Hollywood, the response has been mixed. He has taken note of some of the criticism he has received including online comments such as “all he has to do is go back to his country and apply for a visa.”

“I have been in this country for 25 years and I have done everything that is possible to try to adjust my status,” Bamba said. “Because the system is broken and out of date, there really isn’t a way for me to adjust my status.”

“I have done everything possible,” he added. “I am still currently making an effort as much as I can.”

Howard’s experience in working with the Latino community at BCTC has helped her gain an understanding of what students can do to help. Other than getting involved in minority communities, she said that we all are given gifts and it is up to us to use those as a platform to change the world for the better.

“If you are an artist, make art, if you are a poet, write poems and if you are a musician, make music,” Howard said.  

“It’s amazing to know that there are people making real impacts like Bamba,”  said Destiny Butler, journalism senior. “Someone I work with is a DACA recipient and I couldn’t imagine my work life without her.. They deserve everything.”

Bamba’s advice to other undocumented immigrants is to “keep your head up and keep fighting,” Bamba said. “If you feel comfortable it is important at this time to share your story. The more people we can put a human life or real story to this hot political issue, the more humanizing it becomes and the more people we can win over.”

He specifically asks for African immigrants and other non-latino immigrants to start using their voices because “if we don’t come to the table, we will not be at the table to make decisions.”

For undocumented students Bamba stressed that “it’s important to get your university to commit to protect you regardless of what the government does with DACA.”

Lastly, Bamba ended the interview with saying how much he believed in American progression.

“If Americans were able to overcome discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability,” Bamba said. “Then they can also overcome prejudice based on immigration status.”

Bamba encourages those who wish to help by using the hashtag #standwithbamba or sign his petition.