DA Hispanic Caucus Leadership:
By: Michael Ramos, DA-Australia
No recognition of notable Latinos and Latinas during Hispanic Heritage Month should go unnoticed without mentioning the incredible congresswoman who represents New York’s 7thCongressional District, Nydia M. Velázquez. The 7thDistrict has large Hispanic, Polish and Jewish populations and encompasses the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the northwest side of Brooklyn, and a sliver of Queens, making it among the most diverse constituencies in the nation.
Born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Velázquez earned her way through college in both Puerto Rico and New York and eventually became a congressional staffer for former U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY). In 1992, she became the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress and she has impressively earned re-election twelve times since.
As a member of Congress, Velásquez’s legislative accomplishments are numerous. She has had nine bills signed into law by four different presidents, both Democratic and Republican. Over the years she has served on several committees, caucuses and task forces within the U.S. House of Representatives. Her colleagues on both sides of the aisle greatly respect her encyclopedic knowledge on financial and business issues.
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.