By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
Mert Erim’s dream is to become an American citizen.
The 21-year-old Turkish national is attending New Mexico State University on a student visa, which means he cannot receive financial aid or other benefits, and his work hours are limited. His family members back home has already helped him out financially as much as they can.
Erim is trying to raise enough money to pay for another year and a-half at NMSU so he can graduate, became a resident and find a job. Otherwise, his student visa may be revoked and he may have to return to Turkey, where he faces mandatory army service and possible physical danger because he is openly gay.
Erim has set up a Go Fund Me account to help keep him in the United States and at NMSU, where he is enrolled in the Creative Media Institute for Film and Digital Arts (CMI) program.
“If I do not pay for school and my visa is revoked, I will be sent back to Turkey for military service,” Erim said on his Go Fund Me site (www.gofundme.com/merts-safety-and-school-fund-2vnjvg2c; there’s also a link on his Mert Erim Facebook page). “I will have to live back in the closet, even though I never want to hide who I am. My life would be in danger.”
Erim said being openly gay is not against the law in Turkey (an overwhelmingly Muslim country), but, “there’s another law, people’s law,” he said, remembering how he was abused in middle school because of his sexuality.
Erim’s goal through his “Mert’s Safety and School Fund” on Go Fund Me is to raise $18,000 to pay for tuition ($4,500), insurance ($600) and a university meal plan ($900) for three more semesters until he graduates. He needs to raise at least $6,000 by December to register for the spring 2017 semester at NMSU.
“My parents and I sacrificed everything for me to be here and I do not think going back is an option,” Erim said on Go Fund Me. “I am in need of help because I have done possibly everything that I can to stay here, but I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Once he graduates from NMSU, “then I can find a job and hopefully become a permanent resident with the goal of being a citizen in the future. This means everything to me. My life is here, my friends are here and I am not done,” he said.
“If I don’t do what’s out there for me, then I’m just a coward going back to safety,” Erim said.
“Mert is an excellent student and is well regarded among the entire CMI faculty,” CMI Department head Amy Lanasa said. “His enthusiasm, not just for filmmaking, but also for life, is contagious. His peers love him and seek out opportunities to work with him on set.
“He is the kind of student who makes your classroom brighter, and inspires everyone around him to reach for a higher bar. Mert has a tremendous future working within the industry, but he needs our community’s help in order to finish his degree,” she said.
Erim came to Las Cruces three years ago because NMSU was cheaper to attend than other U.S. universities, and “I heard the film program was good,” he said.
Erim has wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of six, when he saw “Lord of the Rings” for the first time. The film “totally inspired me,” he said. “I want to create content like that and (have) people see it and get inspired.”
He hopes to have his own production company one day, and wants to specialize in videography, editing and audio design.
Erim watched a lot of American movies and television shows growing up, and even celebrated American holidays. Watching TV shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” helped him learn English as well as the “lingo of the American culture,” he said.
As a high school exchange student, Erim got to spend 10 months with a family in Springfield, Missouri. He returned to Turkey for two more years before leaving for good to come to NMSU in 2013.
And, while Erim loves his homeland, “I didn’t see a future there,” he said. “I felt more American in Turkey than Turkish.”
Erim came out to his parents after he graduated from high school, and they have been “really supportive,” he said. His father was a colonel in the Turkish army who retired several years ago and now works about 19 hours a day managing an arcade. Erim’s family is struggling financially, and “I can’t ask them for more money,” he said. His student visa prevents him from finding a job off campus, and limits the number of hours he can work on campus.
The Go Fund Me account had raised more than $3,000 through more than 40 donations as of mid-November.
“It touches me that people help me, that people reach out and say, ‘you’re trying and we want to help you,’” Erim said.
Erim lives off campus with two friends, he said. He also has joined a fraternity. “I have a family that really supports me,” he said.
In addition to his studies (he maintains a 3.8 GPA), he enjoys yoga, hiking, fitness, video games and “meeting as many people as possible.” He also has two pet rats, brothers Toollie and Ollie (from the movie “Ratatouille.”) He uses a two-year old scooter to get around campus and also rides the city bus.
Erim hasn’t seen his parents or younger sister since he left Turkey, but communicates with them on Facebook and through video calls. He hopes to help his sister, now 14, come to the U.S. for college.
“It’s a land of opportunity for me,” Erim said. “I consider myself American. I want to stay here because I believe in the freedom this country offers. I want to be a citizen.”
“Life gives you all these opportunities,” Erim said. “I am taking mine.”
To contribute to the “Mert’s Safety and School Fund” at gofundme.com and help support Turkish student Mert Erim’s effort to stay in the United States and remain at student at New Mexico State University, www.gofundme.com/merts-safety-and-school-fund-2vnjvg2c. There is also a link on his Mert Erim Facebook page.