The is a first-hand account of one young woman’s struggle as an immigrant in the United States.
I came to the USA when I was 12 years old. I have been here for 12 years now. And in 2012 DACA became available, granting me the opportunity to apply and become a “DACAmented” student and worker. (DACA refers to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides certain young immigrants a temporary reprieve from deportation and permission to work.)
At the age of 9, I was given the task to take care of my younger brother and sister back in our homeland while my mother made her way across the desert to meet with my father who had been here long before that. She didn’t have the strength to say goodbye. So she sneaked out late at night and made her way here.
During that time, we only got a phone call a week with specific instructions, chores and how to take care of each other. I was a small adult who would follow as told with the solid purpose that we would someday be reunited.
We were apart for 3 years.
At age 12, I developed an identity crisis. I was no longer the fake parent to my siblings, but a teenager with an anger problem in middle school, learning as fast as possible.
Being in the academic system in America was simple. Our task was to go to class, listen attentively, learn the language, learn the culture and go back home to teach our parents. I had to watch my brother and sister grow and lead a new life, and, at the same time watch my parents being humiliated and discriminated against. I quickly became a translator, a complainer and a debater for my father and mother.
Following tasks was easy; I had a purpose, I had the tools, the values and I was standing in the land of the free. Until I learned about my label: “Illegal Alien.”
At home, everyone’s day begins at 5 a.m. Shame on you if you are still in bed by 5:30. Everyone’s day ends around 8 p.m., except for my father, who is lucky if he’s home by 10 p.m. It’s no different from having been in separate countries.
I got a job at 15, my parents bought a home and we moved out of a one bedroom apartment at last. I applied for college and started a second job. Still illegal, still from another world.
DACA came along. There was hope. I got a better job and a second one to help my parents after my mom was fired when they found out her immigration status. Somehow, no matter how much I did, people continued to treat me like the sign I carried in my head: DACAmented Alien.
I became scared of the lengths people would go to in order to make me feel inferior and keep my family and me in a modern slave circle, like rats in a lab with a piece of cheese hanging from a very thin thread.
I stand here as a survivor of those fears — the fear of not being enough, the fear of not being worthy. The same fear that led me to believe that the purpose of my life was to prove that I was human enough and that I was deserving enough of a fair chance to a better education and a better life for me and my family. And it was not something that I could ever understand — why I needed to prove something that was common sense among all human beings.
After the words of hate had cut me, the humiliation of my father and mother had affected me and the actions of racism blinded by ignorance had hurt me, I finally gathered the strength to ask my father the question everyone at school and everywhere I went had asked me: What are you doing here? Why did you come here?
My father looked at me as if I had insulted him, as if I was ungrateful.
He explained that he had been given the task of survival, that his intention was never to flee his land. But that to be heard, people will ask you what you do for a living so they can calculate the amount of respect (respect grants you a voice) they will give you. That being poor in a country corrupted, where they are fighting a fight against gang members, violence and other crimes a poor person doesn’t stand a chance. That wasn’t our fight. That fight was between people that were greedy, that just wanted power. My father had no other choice than to leave and keep us safe.
He said that the way we could fight that fight was to come to another land where opportunity and dreams were a thing. We were going to get educated, prepare, work hard and someday we would go back and claim our chance to express ourselves and make a difference. Sometimes hunger becomes the fuel for dreams.
My father calls that the fight with the white (clean) gloves. Because our dreams were NOT going to be built at the expense of others lives. The fight in our country and between countries was not meant to be with guns or knives, but that they had made that choice. And I believe that my parent’s words are true. That we are all fighting what we chose.
Our own fights, our beliefs and even the hate that you sometimes carry in your heart is ours, created by ideas and perceptions of imaginary borders that our leaders who have bought, not earned, respect abused their voices and used them to create fear upon us. As a result, we have dehumanized one another and forgotten that we are people and that we are all the same.
My father’s task was survival, my task now is to search for purpose, meaning and fulfillment of my dreams. What a luxury of mine.
It’s hard to build a set future with an uncertain status. Watching DACA getting juggled around like it wasn’t my reality and the reality of others, but a luxury to at least have a tiny choice. It’s even harder to build a future with NO status, not knowing if you will get a call that your parents are detained and getting ready to be shipped back to a place they were forced to leave. Watching the little that you have EARNED being taken away like nothing and have NO choice.
There is no bigger struggle than meeting your parents’ expectations. Not the part of earning your goals; anyone determined enough can do that. But the part of doing so never at the EXPENSE of others.
I sit here and watch the rest build their goals at the expense of my father’s work. At the expense of traumatizing children as they come home to no parents, at the expense of people dying crossing borders.
No it is not that they are better. It’s privilege. No one got a choice to be born where they decided. We got what was given. But it doesn’t mean that it has to remain that way. It is time that people take responsibility for the massacres of people throughout history caused by who WE CHOOSE to respect and give a voice to.
I hope that all of us get a chance to look the next generation of children in the eyes the same way I look at my father and say that we stood for the values of a land founded on the sweat and hard work of yours and my ancestors. ANCESTORS that had decided that the world was ONE to explore, one to build, to grow, to share and to love. To LOVE people, ALL PEOPLE. A land that gave anyone the right to dream, where hate, labels, colors were forgotten. That the last war was the one we ended. And to be proud of the America that we watched flourish.
I am a DACAmented student and worker; I am a Mexican; I am an American. I am the daughter of fighters, the mentee of strong women. I am a human, a believer in fairness, kindness and love. A believer of dreams. The dreams of my parents: The ORIGINAL DREAMERS.
CLEAN DREAM ACT NOW. Thank you.