Whether this is coming from a paralyzing nightmare or reality, it’s all the same these days.
Here we are: I’ve been stripped completely, and am standing naked in front of you, America.
I came to you from Jalisco, Mexico, a bundled up two year old. As a young boy I was told of your opportunities, your universities, degrees and jobs. In your eyes I was an elusive “illegal” or “undocumented immigrant” and living nervously became normal to me. I learned to keep quiet, take what I was given, never ask for more, fear police lights and walk around apologetically, existing in a place that’s not mine and never wanted me. Who would I be now if none of that were true? I am actively trying to unlearn this behavior.
America, you looked for me for years, and I managed to lay low. I heard about your raids, your power in breaking up families. I blended in as well as I could. I took all of your AP classes in high school to prove to you I was worthy. I had my first degree before I started my second year of college. I worked multiple jobs, paying most of my schooling out of pocket. I washed your dishes; I made your fast food; I served and made your coffee fresh. I let you yell at me in the dining room when your food wasn’t ready fast enough. I forced a smile when you told me my English was good. I went by my middle name, Benjamin, because it was easier for you.
“I washed your dishes; I made your fast food; I served and made your coffee fresh. I forced a smile when you told me my English was good. I went by my middle name, Benjamin, because it was easier for you.”
When I turned 22, you coaxed me out of the shadows with the promise of documentation and protection from deportation, otherwise known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). I was hesitant, but I gave you my money and fingerprints, and you handed me my paperwork. You followed through with your promise, and drastically changed my life, America.
Here is what being a DACA recipient did for me:
I was no longer naked, and was beginning to dress myself. I finally had a photo identification. I applied to the jobs I wanted. I stopped putting up with the ignorant side of you, America. I told you I spoke English well because I’ve been speaking it since I was five. I threw in that I also speak French to shake up your world even more. I took back my name and wasn’t afraid to tell you when you mispronounced it. The “H” is silent.
I refined my Spanish, and worked in a clinic interpreting for patients just like me. I stopped moving out of your way on sidewalks, because I am a person, too. I listened to musicians like Rocio Durcal, Juan Gabriel and Natalia Lafourcade. I intentionally learned to make tortillas, posole, tamales, sopes, enchiladas, rediscovering my Mexican culture with pride.
With this newfound confidence, I became more involved in my community. I worked for non-profits, realizing how easy it is for someone in my position to help someone else. I once was able to call a patient at my clinic to let them know that I got 100% of their massive Emergency Room medical bills completely erased. They didn’t have to pay a dime. They cried on the phone. Speaking Spanish, they thanked me from the bottom of their heart. I was only doing my job, but I was removing a burden at the same time. You did this with your Affordable Care Act, America. We worked together on that one.
Last year, I started my dream job as a Graphic Designer. I cried.
This year, I’m faced with the very real possibility of losing my job. Of losing my work permit, my identification, my ability to make an income, my home. Where does one go from there? I’m peering over the edge, America, and the distance for falling is long.
“America, you coaxed me out of the shadows with the promise of documentation and protection from deportation, otherwise known as DACA. You changed my life.”
Two years ago my mother’s cancer returned vigorously, a tumor in her brain. I managed her appointments, became her unofficial interpreter. Learned to deliver bad news while simultaneously taking it in as her son. I gave her good news too. We dove into surgery, radiation, more tumors, more radiation, clinical trials, small victories and failed medications. There we sat, in the front seat of the rollercoaster that is melanoma. We lost sleep together, waiting for the men in white coats to deliver the latest news. She shared her vulnerability with me while I combed her hair.
This year, America, is the fear of deportation or the decision to voluntarily leave you and never see you again. The inability to be there for my mother when she needs me the most.
I’m not offering any solutions, America, because I do not have them. What I do know is that we were heading somewhere with DACA, and now we are taking a serious step back. What do you do with 12,000,000 people with their own unique reasons for breaking your laws to make a better living for themselves and their families? I’ve felt guilt for my parents’ decisions, but no longer do. You see, they did what they had to do, and I don’t blame them. They too were young, they too learned to live in fear. This is where we are now, and this is where we start. Your system is broken, and has been for a long time. But the solution isn’t to manipulate people’s lives when you want to.
With all of that, I have it easy, America. After all, I speak English, I don’t have children, I don’t have a disease to battle, I don’t own a business. All I have is the desire to stay in the only place I’ve known as home for the last 24 years. To not be displaced. To be with my family, my partner, my friends, and the community I have built for myself.
So, here we are:
I am standing naked in front of you once again, America, as one of 740,000 DACA Recipients.
This post first appeared on Medium.