I am a DREAMer.
My memories of Mexico form a valuable base for my identity and childhood; I'm proudly Latina. Despite this, over half of my life was spent in another country - the U.S. There is no comparison to me between my Mexican self and my raised-in-the-U.S. self. I consider both to be parts of a whole, a reason for which the politics of both countries are so important to me. I sing both anthems proudly, and have spent all of my life playing the "prove-it” game.
"I love the U.S." - "Prove it."
"I can speak Spanish." - "Prove it."
"I know all the states and presidents." - "Prove it."
Part of the reason why I identify as both American and Mexican, despite not having legal American documents, is that while a child, seemingly overnight I found myself in the U.S. Though jarring, the differences to me came at a time during which I was so young and adaptable that I simply accepted and embraced them. This was the beginning of a lifelong juxtaposition between my adoption of American identity and everyday remembrance of my Mexican culture.
As I became an adult I became more and more involved in U.S. politics. I knew I wanted to do my part to help bring progress to this new country. So I joined Democratic groups and volunteered to raise money for the community, from art programs to LGBTQ advocacy, to assisting people in translation work from the age of 10. I fell in love with the country and I learned to balance the two worlds that I lived in. Before I knew it, however, the word "home" brought to mind not Mexico, but my place of residence in the U.S.
I was limited in what I could do compared to U.S citizens. The biggest difficulty, and also my biggest dream, was to get into college. I had done well in high school, and as graduation neared I confidently told my friends that I had college all figured out. They had all been accepted, I was in all of their classes, and I was a notorious know-it-all. So there was no reason for them to doubt me. Despite my confident remarks, I knew all along I was undocumented in a state that did not allow anyone without documents to attend college. After graduation I hid from my friends and waited for a miracle.
Then came the DACA program.
I got a Social Security card and stepped outside, for once not afraid to see an ICE vehicle. For the first time I could get a driver’s license and a job, just like everyone else. Nonetheless, because I did not qualify for student aid or in-state tuition, I still could not go to college. When I found this out it was certainly a major setback, but one I decided I would overcome. I would save up for as long as it took by taking on several jobs. I was determined that nothing would stop me.
While I worked two jobs for several years I began to see my savings grow. I had optimism that I would, though slowly, accumulate what I needed. During my free time I passionately devoted my efforts to encouraging civil action for the progress of healthcare, sexual assault awareness, and immigrant rights. It was well known that I was left-leaning and politically active, for which the people around me began coming to me for insight and advice on current issues.
Elections came, and with it changes to the community I had known for so long. In 2016, an overnight proliferation of prejudice against me left me stunned. I'd encountered racism before, even as a child, and knew how to brush it off. Yet this was more frequent and closer to home. Close friends, their families, coworkers, customers, complete strangers, people I had grown up with abruptly took offense to my existence. I was told to show my visa, questioned about my legal status, slurs were directed toward my sister, and one older man even became angry when I wouldn't provide him with my birth certificate at a bookstore, to name a few incidents.
I hoped that this would be over once the election was passed. I was nervously watching the election that night. To my friends who could vote, I had voiced the importance of their choice. Unfortunately a large number of my friends did not vote, as they did not feel there was anything to worry about. They did not believe me when I explained that my own safety was at stake. Having not experienced first-hand what I had for the past few months, perhaps they believed my perspective to be melodramatic.
Either way, we all know how the election turned out. I didn't feel safe, and neither did my family. We agreed to stop telling people we are from Mexico. Still, I couldn't hide my hair, my eyes, or my color, and the aggressions got worse. I would go home every day tired and angry, dreading having to answer the question, "But where are you really from?", and the subsequent haranguing.
One night I received a message from someone I had gone to school with:
"I hope you get deported."
I was furious, and determined once more.
My goal was to get to school and it didn't matter how many racists I encountered, nothing would stop me.
But I did encounter some more bumps along the way. When the announcement came that DACA was going to be scrapped, a part of me panicked, while another part shut down and carried me through the double shift I had that day. When I got home I stayed up all night researching, trying to figure out a way in which I could guarantee that I would be okay. By this point I was exhausted, frustrated, terrified, and heartbroken. The thought of four more years of this was overwhelming.
My health took a dive as I felt my grasp on my world, my community, my safety and my future slipping. There was no way I would be capable of surviving in the U.S. without DACA. Without the ability to work, my savings would only carry me so far.
A year ago I left my home and over 15 years of familiarity. I dream every day of going home and hugging my family and seeing my friends, and driving to my favorite spot by the ocean. Yet it was a choice that I was forced to make due to the DACA’s existence in doubt. Today I continue to be involved in U.S.-related events, and working on helping from where I am. According to my research, because I applied for DACA after I was 18, I now have a 10-year ban from the U.S. I find this devastating, yet, encouraging. I am determined to go back, this time a more capable and knowledgeable individual. Meanwhile I hope to continue raising awareness of the problems faced by minorities - problems that can be solved by ensuring to choose candidates for elected office who have the best interest of everyone in mind. Though I am not American, I deeply care for the U.S. and its people, a feeling I know I share with over 800,000 other DREAMers. I hope to see better developments in education, healthcare, social issues and infrastructure as the years go by.
I hope that the other thousands of DREAMers will be given the chance to become citizens of the nation they call home. I know from experience the amount of passion and dedication that one invests in the community one cares about. Without a doubt DREAMers are an invaluable, irreplaceable asset to American society, and giving them the opportunity to become official citizens would profoundly benefit their lives and the nation as a whole. I know it can be done, and have full faith in the people of the U.S. and those abroad to vote to make it happen. I can't wait to be back once more to fight for equity and change with my family by my side.
First things first: go to college. Nothing can stop me.