New York Is the Only Life I've Ever Known

This blog post is part of a series by Raise Our Story, a project for sharing the uniquely beautiful stories of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. The series has been collected by RAISE, a pan-Asian group of undocumented young adults on the East Coast, to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. On May 20, RAISE will be presenting #UndocuAsians, a new film and theater performance by undocumented Asian American youth.

Life in New York is the only life I've ever known. I was just five-years-old when I came to the United States from the Philippines in 2000. I lived with my grandparents in the Upper East Side for a year before moving to Staten Island and starting elementary school. I watched my parents establish a chapter of our church in Queens and believed America had become our country. At this point, going back to the Philippines no longer became an option.

I lived my early years thinking I was like my peers: an American. This country's culture was my culture. I spoke English without a trace of a Filipino accent. It wasn't until the end of my sophomore year of high school that my life began to fall apart. I found out that my life had limitations and that there were many possibilities I would be denied. I found out I was undocumented.

This was a low, difficult time. I felt burdened by my secret. My friends were getting their summer jobs and driver's licenses while I commuted everywhere. I had to make up excuses as to why I didn't work. By the time my junior year of high school started, I had become seriously depressed. School felt pointless and my grades plummeted. Perhaps I could graduate, but I doubted I would be able to go to college, have a career, or any real future. I began to think about suicide. Eventually, I talked to my close friends and told them about my status. The fact that they were there for me helped me get through the tough times.

The future didn't open up until I attended a DREAM Act workshop, and learned about the movement for comprehensive immigration reform. Last summer, I met members of my undocumented youth group RAISE at an event with young immigration activists. The energy of DREAMers like me gave me hope. I found a way to channel my pain for a good cause. I realized I wanted to share this hope with other people in my situation. Now that I've joined RAISE, I'm the one reaching out to other people in my situation, to pull them out of the dark pit that I am all too familiar with.

I've made strides in overcoming my depression through working as an activist and with the support of my friends, but I still worry that my dreams remain in jeopardy. In the fall, I'm attending Hunter College. While I'm not sure what I want to focus on yet, I've become interested in foreign languages, sociology, and psychology. I want to study political science, too. I still don't know whether I'll be able to pay for college and find a job.

Now that we have a proposal for immigration reform, I hope that things are changing. Under the current proposal, the path to citizenship for DREAMers is five years, but for most other immigrants it is 13 years -- and even that is not yet definite. Thirteen is years is as long as I've been in the United States, and I know how terrible it feels to be stuck as an outsider in your own country -- your only country -- for 13 years. I hope by sharing my story, I can inspire us not to make the struggle last so long for others as it has for me.