Twenty Years in America and Still Trying to Become an American

Twenty Years in America and Still Trying to Become an American

Story tools

Comments

A A AResize

Print

Share and Email

 
Today marks an enormous milestone in my life. I celebrate 20 years surviving as an American. A couple of decades ago, my mother and I set off on a life-changing journey that continues to this day. With my mother being 29 years old, and me being just five, we left our lives in Mexico City, Mexico and set off in search of a better life in the United States. I didn’t know when this all started that a “better life” meant one in the shadows and with a continuous fight to be part of a country that doesn’t want us.

My mother knew that if we could escape the hardships that we faced in Mexico, I would have a greater opportunity to achieve my greatest potential. Leaving our family, friends and everything we owned behind, we boarded a plane for the first time in our lives and set off for Tijuana, the last of Mexico that I would ever see. Our first attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexican border was denied by a dozen border patrol agents in trucks and helicopters minutes after entering the U.S., which in my eyes seamed like a clip from a war game. When we were sent back to Tijuana my mother knew that there was no turning back, it was now or never. So after a grueling 11 hours of running, hiding, ducking and a near death experience we reached the Promised Land, a land filled with opportunity, diversity, wealth and discrimination. It’s gateway was known as Los Angeles.

It is this great effort that makes me an American. While many people are born into America, my mother and I had to fight our way in. What is more American than entering a foreign land and claiming it as your own? As I grew up, I started to see signs of my “undocumentedness,” such as always having to take the bus when all my classmates' parents would drive cars. I thought it was because we were poor and couldn’t afford a car, which was true. But why were we poor? Even if I could afford a car, I couldn’t even drive to school without risking deportation.

I can recall the first time I lost a friend over my immigration status, it happened here in San Jose. I was 9-years-old, and my friend’s parents had just found out about my status and told my friend that people like me were not good people, that we were in this country to steal, abuse and that no good would come from us being friends. It took a good month for us to stop being friends because he knew that what his parents thought of me was wrong. Yet as with many things, I had no say in the matter. Can’t get a drivers license, can’t legally work, can’t vote..can’t..can’t..can’t.

The reality was that the America we were afforded only offered a 12-hour-a-day job at a produce packaging company for my mother, who also suffered stress from the constant threat of losing her job due to the lack of proof of eligibility to work within the country. Even as an adult, I learned it is hard to get out of an economic situation when you have no economic opportunity. Always working only to survive, never working to strive, is a reality that many undocumented immigrants living in the United States face. Even at another job for the last 16 years, my mother still is not seen as a real employee.

Our domestic life has been one of struggle, living in converted garages, basements and shared rooms, never really having a home to call our own. Something that makes no sense to me, even 20 years later, was the limitations of our lifestyle. If you work hard and live an honest life, shouldn’t one be rewarded with more than a two-bedroom apartment shared with six people?

Nevertheless, my mother always kept her head held high and carried herself with dignity and respect. “No matter what people think we are, mijo, remember that we are good people trying to do good in this country,” she would tell me after days when both of us would come into discrimination or limitations due to our status but couldn’t really talk about it. In a way, we felt like if we didn’t talk about it, then it wasn’t really happening.

The one thing I did have a say in was the kind of person I was going to be. I knew that I wanted to be a part of this country no matter what. Mexico might be my home country, but America is my home. For the past eight years I have been serving my larger community, rather then detracting, as the stereotype goes. Through working with community organizations, I have found my way as a video producer, reporter and artist.

This is why I am an American; I have worked hard to do the best I can to get ahead in this world, to help out my community, my family and this country. I pay all my taxes that help keep this country moving. I have been able to complete high school, the first in my small family. I stayed free of any trouble that would land me in a different kind of cage, prison or jail. I have done my best to achieve a higher level of education, yet I've hit a wall with financial aid due to restrictions because of my immigration status. But my ceiling is not the end of the world. Being undocumented has prepared me for “no’s” and in turn allows me to find ways to be innovative in my problem-solving.

Life lessons that have paved the way for me to start my own small printing business, be able to travel all over the country (one of the few rights we have as undocumented immigrants) giving talks and presentations about the many faces of the undocumented immigrant and how we greatly contribute to this society. Presentations that include being a keynote speaker in front of 1,000-plus college students in Washington, D.C., next to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Her past 20 years in America, I bet, looked a lot different from mine.

I am now happily married to a U.S. citizen and look forward to starting my own family here, making sure my children know that being in this great country is a privilege. Twenty years have passed since we first entered this country with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and here we still stand as undocumented as the day we first stepped foot in this country. We might not be American citizens, but no one can tell us that we are not Americans.

The author’s name has been redacted to protect his anonymity.
Images for collage from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Comments

 
Anonymous

Posted Dec 4 2010

What a joke. You break into America and that make you an American? You need to go back to Mexico and learn about respect for laws.

Anonymous

Posted Dec 6 2010

It's not the fault of the children. Have some compassion! Why make the children pay for the sins of their fathers' (or mothers)? These children were innocent when they came to this country, and need to have a pathway to citizenship. Some people need to put themselves in the position of an innocent child and realize that if it were they who is facing being plucked up from the only life they knew and placed in a new country that it would be devastating. Give them a chance to at least prove themselves valuable citizens that most of them are! They have suffered enough! By the way, its not only Mexicans that are here illegally, they come from all over. I don't like seeing "Americans" behaving so un-American. Remember most of our ancestors came here illegally and took over land that "belonged" to others. Just because some have more force than others, doesn't make it right to degrade, dehumanize, and abuse others.

Anonymous

Posted Dec 6 2010

Parents who drag their children across the desert should be charges with child endangerment.

Anonymous

Posted Dec 11 2010

You can be in America illegally for 100 yeras, but you will never be an American, unless the law says so.

Disclaimer: Comments do not necessarily reflect the views of New America Media. NAM reserves the right to edit or delete comments. Once published, comments are visible to search engines and will remain in their archives. If you do not want your identity connected to comments on this site, please refrain from commenting or use a handle or alias instead of your real name.