Growing up illegal meant a lot of things for me. It meant that I wouldn’t grow up by my dad in a country I had known as home for the first 5 years of my life, it meant that I would have to watch over my little brother while my mom worked two jobs (sometimes three) to get us by, it meant that I didn’t know English and got picked on for that for two years in a row, it meant that when people found out I was illegal – I got called “illegal alien” or my personal favorite, “wetback,” it also meant that I would not have the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license, or get a job, or even go to college.
You see, while I knew that there was something wrong with me for not having been born in America, I didn’t realize that there was such a negative stigma associated with what that word actually meant. I only knew that my mom had brought us into the United States so we could have a better future. We were struggling back home, and she wanted us to live and grow up in a country that she had always admired. A country that offered her “freedom,” “hope,” and the ability to accomplish her dreams. I never fully realized that what my mom had done in order to give us a better future was wrong. She had only meant the best for us.
My mom is one of my heroes – and she will always be. She has worked her butt off in the United States from the moment we stepped foot on American soil 17 years ago. She has never been on food stamps, or welfare, or unemployment. She has always worked to provide us with what she could and has always paid her taxes (imagine that!). She has never stolen or begged from anyone but instead has always worked for what she has and has always helped others along the way. She always showed us the beauty America had to offer, always told us to work hard for what we wanted, and always stressed the importance of never giving up – especially in a country that wasn’t your own.
I believe it was these things my mom showed me from a very early age, that really made me want to be successful. Once I found out what being illegal meant for me and my future, I decided that I was going to push myself to be a good and exemplary citizen of the United States. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I was going to do as best as I could in school, I was going to work hard to make people around me notice that hard work pays off no matter your circumstances, and I was going to make sure that even if it came down to me being deported, I would at least have all these good actions backing me up.[/perfectpullquote]
I would prove that I wasn’t here to steal other people’s jobs, or be a “criminal,” or be someone that society would frown upon. No. I was going to be the opposite. I was going to make sure that other people saw the good morals that my mom had instilled upon me, even if it meant I had to carry the label “illegal alien” for a big chunk of my life.
Thankfully, my mom started our immigration paperwork as soon as she could. We were permanent residents after 7 years of waiting (so I was able to get my driver’s license, get a job, and go to college), and 5 years after that, we were fortunate enough to become citizens of the United States. I will never forget the day we became citizens. I stood amongst many other individuals of various backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures – and all I remember thinking is – “What a beautiful country!” I was overwhelmed with joy because I was surrounded by all of those different faces and personalities.
And I guess it was in that moment that I fully valued the statement, “variety is the spice of life.” I also realized that with my legalization, no more labels would apply to me and I was finally, officially, “free.”
But as the years have progressed, and as our new president of the United States has taken office, it has become something scary for me – being a citizen of the United States. I never thought that once I became a citizen of the United States, I would feel threatened, or feel unwelcomed, or feel like I don’t fully belong. I always thought I would be good as soon as I received my citizenship. And I did for a while (not going to lie), but then … you turn on the news, or you read stories, or you hear your neighbors speak ill of people that aren’t legal and you go, “Woah … not what I was expecting.” You get sad inside because although you are now ok to be in the United States, all those other people aren’t. And although you are here for good reasons, along with many others, some people just don’t see it that way.
I live in fear of what will happen to thousands of other people that will not have the opportunities, I, or my family had. I live in fear of all the people that will never get to experience the beauty that this country has to offer because a stupid wall is supposed to get built to keep “them” out. I hurt inside when people call out the “illegal aliens,” and the “wetbacks,” and realize that maybe, just maybe, I am not label-free. I hurt just like them because I was once where they are and I know exactly how it feels to not be welcomed in a country where all you want to do is succeed, move on, build a life for yourself and your families, and… be … free.
One of the most beautiful memories I have growing up is driving from the United States to Mexico for that very first time after having been legalized. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Crossing the border and being able to see the American flag wave behind me as my family left America, and the Mexican flag as it greeted us into our home country, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. Both beautiful flags, both beautiful countries. I was torn because I loved each country so much. Who would I pick if I had to pick one? I remember thinking to myself. The country that birthed me? Or the country that gave me opportunity?[/perfectpullquote]
I couldn’t decide… I loved them both. And when we returned from our vacation, seeing the Mexican flag waving behind me and the American flag welcoming us back home, made me feel so fortunate. A wave of happiness, gratitude, and nostalgia flowed through my body. I was fortunate enough to see both flags, to see both countries, and to get to be a part of both of them.
But no more. No more will I ever see both of my flags wave freely. No more will I be able to see Mexico across the border and get super excited for all the sounds, the music, and the people. And no more will I be able to see Texas as we make our way back home or all of the beautiful buildings that come along with the view as we drive across into America. No more.
You would think that after history has shown and proven time and time again that no wall has ever fully kept anyone out, or anyone in for that matter, that someone with an education and background, such as our new president has, would stop and think, “Maybe this isn’t the best option. Maybe I really need to do some research and think of other, better, and less dehumanizing ways to control illegal immigration.” I mean, because seriously?
I will never advocate wrong doings. I know that what my mom did was wrong, and I know that what a lot of other people are doing is wrong when it comes to illegal immigration. But I am immensely thankful for the opportunity my mom gave my younger brother and I, 17 years ago. I would not be the woman I am today, had it not been for that decision. And I’m pretty sure that thousands of others who have lived through the same, feel the exact same way. We are thankful for the opportunities we’ve been given, we are here to work hard, and contrary to what most believe, we are NOT here to make America worse. We are not here to hurt America, criminalize America, or destroy it. At least, I speak for the great majority.
Now, I challenge you to close your eyes and imagine a life without ANY immigrants (legal or not). Imagine that wall that he plans to build. Does it really change things? Or does it make things worse? Imagine all the people that build the roads that you drive on every day, build the buildings or the homes that you live in every day, cook the food that you and your co-worker eat every day, and you tell me what your life is like without them. Because, and forgive me for my boldness, I believe that a SHIT TON of them are the ones that help America be the place it is. And a SHIT TON of them are doing the jobs that a SHIT TON of so-called “Americans” are not. I challenge you to imagine your life without all the friends and acquaintances you have that come from multi-national backgrounds. I challenge you to go outside and do the work that most of these illegal aliens are doing.
And I bet, that most of you will not want that life.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not bashing our president, I respect that he’s president. What I do not respect is some of the things he stands for. There’s no need to be so inhumane about things. That’s all I’m saying.