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By Diana, a Youth Power Project Member of Make the Road New York
Nobody ever seems to ask why we immigrated in the first place. There is this assumption for some that it is always for a better future. But, they do not realize that leaving everything behind broke my father’s heart, and that being here continues to break it. He sees me leave for work early morning and not come home until late at night, and he hopes deep down that it is all worth it, all for my education.
I was 12 years old when I was told I was undocumented and to never say it out loud. I was forced to understand how a piece of paper made all the difference. When I was 14 years old, I took my first job off the books. I never thought that cleaning a high school in Long Island from morning to late at night could be so exhausting. The day I started, I understood how a lot of people in this country view undocumented people when my boss told me that I needed to get used to it, that that was going to be my future. And I started to believe it.
Ever since then, I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would not have the same opportunities as those who were born in this country.
But I told myself that if I saved a lot of money, I could one day put myself through school. That I could defeat the odds, regardless of my situation.
Still, I was angry and frustrated that I had to work multiple night jobs to pursue a higher education. When I finally graduated from high school, I was once again reminded that, regardless of how much I worked, it was still not enough money to afford the schools I desperately wanted to attend, despite getting accepted to them.
Most people do not know or understand that without that “piece of paper” (a social security number), you do not qualify for financial aid or for any kinds of loans. Even though I was able to continue my education by paying out of pocket, running to work right before and after class did not allow me to get the grades that would reflect my academic potential. When I was 17 years old, I began thinking I was not meant to be in school, that I was not smart enough so I dropped out of college after my first year.
But sometimes the saying, “when one door closes, another one opens,” comes true. In 2012, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) happened. After the constant and unstoppable fight of immigrant youth around the country, President Obama signed an executive order creating DACA, which allowed 800,000 undocumented youth like me to receive work status and protection from deportation.
At first the fear of providing my information to the same government that has the power to deport me overtook me, so I waited. I waited to apply hoping that this new door was not going to be slammed right in my face.
But eventually, when I was 18, I decided to apply and became a DACA recipient. DACA allowed me to go back to school, knowing that I could find a steady job with the hours I needed to concentrate on my grades. I decided to major in Sociology and Human Rights, Although DACA did not allow me to get financial aid (New York State still hasn’t passed the DREAM Act, which would allow students like me to get financial aid), I knew that I know could find a job within my field of study, one that helped me grow intellectually. DACA allowed me to apply for programs and fellowships that all required a social security number — all of the ones that I was not able to access prior to DACA for the lack of a piece of paper.
For the first time in my life, I felt consistency.
I am supposed to walk down the stage and receive my college diploma in two semesters. This has been my one goal for the past 22 years, to finally get my degree. To put the pieces of my father’s broken heart back together and make him proud.
But with Donald Trump now threatening to end DACA, I now wonder if I will ever be able to become the lawyer or professor that I want to be, to continue working and helping youth who felt the way the same way I did while growing up. Something so close feels like it could soon be so far off.
Once again, I am reminded that when you are undocumented there is no such thing as consistency. That you must remain awake, even when you are asleep.
We are in a time in which we are uncertain of DACA’s future, whether it’ll be taken away from us tomorrow, next week or not at all. I think of those families whose food on the table depends on the future of DACA. I think of the families who will be separated or who will struggle financially without it. I think of those students who are so close to finishing their dream careers. I think of those undocumented people who are going back in the shadows because of fear of deportation. I think of their journey to self-liberation and what will mean for each and one of them moving forward.
I am inspired and empowered by all those people who are willing to put their bodies in the front to defend DACA, who have done that for many years, those who have taken the streets to demand our families to remain together, for our youth to receive an education. I can not stress enough the power of community, of unity. One too many times we have been told to give up, to accept our situation. We have wondered where home really is. And we have realized that home has become the place where we can be all of our identities at once and say them out loud with no fear. Today, we are undocumented and here to stay.
Diana is a member of Make the Road New York’s Youth Power Project. On Wednesday, Make the Road New York members will help lead the March to #DefendDACA. More info and RSVP here: bit.ly/March4DACA