By ALFREDO GARCIA
All of us, as undocumented students, at some moment have come to realize the hard reality of our precarious and uncertain existence in the United States. When we applied to college, when we tried to get a driver’s license, when we tried to look for a job, the meaning of what it is to be undocumented was revealed to us. We saw how the doors that we thought were open closed because of the lack of a nine-digit number, and we lamented as we witnessed how our world full of aspirations became smaller. The most terrifying thought was to contemplate the possibility of deportation. In doing so, we deeply discovered the fragility of our presence in this country. This country that we call home and that rejects us as its own. We became aware we were sin papeles – moving towards the future without proper documentation. Anxiety consumed our being when we recognized that the world as we knew it could be over at any moment.
For me, as for many other immigrants, there were countless nights of solitude and despair, where my reality as undocumented mutilated my being and crushed my spirit. “Why should I continue my education if I cannot work when I graduate? How do I keep moving forward when the most reasonable thing to do is to give up?” I saw my solitude and despair and had compassion for myself. In the same manner, I began to have compassion of all other students, who like myself, found themselves in the same miserable situation – in the same seemingly powerless circumstances. I dared to go beyond that solitude that kept me still, and in doing so I found other solitary beings – in the same pursuit following the same path, carrying with them the same cross and having the same longing. We pursued a just world as we walked the path of education as undocumented – constant struggle – always longing for a better life.
We inspired each other when we discovered that we were not alone. We shared our stories and the burdens of our parents. We remembered their sufferings, which were painful to us, but we found strength in thinking about their sacrifices. We found strength by recognizing that our parents have lived their lives for us. We found strength by recognizing that they had worked all their lives, and in doing so they had been humiliated and even exploited – yet they were always faithful to the belief that, in this country, enduring it all was necessary so their sons and daughters would have the opportunities they never did. How could we give up if our parents had not given up on us? Failing ourselves would mean failing our parents.
Strengthened, we decided to respond to those circumstances that worked against us. It did not matter that others thought it was absurd for us to continue our education without legal status. It did not matter that others told us that we did not belong here. It did not matter that we had to face countless barriers as we navigated the education system. It did not matter if we had to go against the world – we decided that we had to keep moving forward. Even if they had valid reasons we did not listen to them. Instead, we decided to follow our heart even if it seemed to go after the absurd. We went against all those questioning us and opposing us, so that we could graduate from college despite our immigration status.
We walked our path without fully knowing where it was leading to, but we walked with hope. It was by walking our path together that we opened doors that were closed. In walking this path, we discovered that it was not sufficient to endure and survive – we realized that we also had to fight. We saw ourselves stuck in the midst of an unjust world so we challenged ourselves to make education an equal opportunity for all, and fought for a world that would recognize the dignity of our existence. It that world, our families would not have to suffer anymore. It would be a world where, even if we were not citizens of this country, we would not be treated as objects – objects that have value in so far as they produce. We refused to be reduced to an abstract category and to be called “illegals.” We courageously shouted from the depth of our being that we are humans! We are men and women of flesh and bones. We are men and women who dream and hope, men and women with faith and sins – men and women who cry, suffer, sacrifice, struggle, endure, celebrate and want to live not only for ourselves, but for those who give meaning to our lives.
There were times when we were afraid, but even in those times we confronted the world. We were willing to risk everything, to sacrifice everything, and to suffer everything because we had hope. A hope that was born out of our past struggles – our own, our parents’, and our ancestors. A hope that was born out of a vision for a just world. A hope that was born out of the faith in the living God, the God of miracles – who intervenes in our lives and does not abandon us. We stopped being dreamers and became warriors. We recognized the strength of our parents and conceived them not as criminals but as heroes and heroines. Then, full of hope, strength and faith we kept fighting under the uncertainty that overwhelmed us.
The recent political climate has devastated our souls and broken our spirits. A cloud full of terror, raining anti-immigrant sentiment, has created a storm of fear threatening our already uncertain future in this country. The horrific question emerges: What will happen to us? A question that captures the uncertainty that we live every day for being at risk of deportation. That is, living without knowing if we will continue with our education, living without knowing if our families will be separated, living without knowing if we will again be together. An inevitable question that demands an answer, and rightly so. But this is not the appropriate question to be asking – for uncertainty has always been with us. The questions that we ought to be asking are the following: Where do we find hope? Where do we find strength? Where is our faith to keep moving forward when the most logical conclusion is to give up?
When we remember the responses to these questions, if we have not done so already, we will be able to decide if we want to confront this unjust world once again. In this crucial moment, we need to recognize that we are not the only solitary beings. We need to find what unites us with those who also find themselves in seemingly powerless circumstances. There are many cultural and religious differences, but there is a stronger experience that links us all: internal exile. If we dare to look them in their eyes, we will see the reflection of our own exile. In many other minorities, we will realize that we are not the only ones who have been condemned to live at the margins of the mainstream American society. We will recognize that we are not the only rejected ones. It will be imperative to unite with them. That is how we can endure, not only waiting for our destiny – but forging it as we struggle along the side of others who have also been exiled. Together, we will endure.
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