I am an immigrant and an American. I dance salsa, I eat burgers, and I get my news in two languages. Years ago I struggled through four textbooks to write a decent paragraph in English. Now in college, I write twenty-page essays on Heidegger and Kant. By means of education, I have become assimilated. I wear silk ties and collared shirts. I pay taxes and I dabble in trendy hobbies like photography and literature. I have become ‘safe’ to join the exclusive group of “us” while eschewing the society of “them.”
Who are “they”? They are different from me. They are on news reports and documentaries. The ones traversing miles of sun-stroked desert, carrying towels and jugs of water. The ones waiting on the corner for a truck to whisk them to an undesirable job. We associate them with words like “illegal,” “third world,” and “invasion.” They look weird and talk weird. We don’t like them and they should to leave.
Sometimes, however, it’s not that easy to put a label. Sometimes “they” are like me. Young, ambitious, and in tune with American culture, they struggle with exam prep and Spanish homework and soccer practice and dating like any other American young adult. Some of them could go far. They could write novels or cure cancer or send things to outer space. But they can’t. They are breaking the law.
They don’t have the right to stay like I do.
A long time ago, I entered the land of American privilege. And I did it through the front door. I had no talents, yet I was welcomed as a success story. Why? Back then people 'just came'. If you could get your feet on this side, you could cut yourself a slice of the pie. It was simple. But I didn’t even have to make that sacrifice. My grandparents were among the fortunate. Before I was born, before I was even an idea, I had a way out: a road of possibilities that was paved for me through the struggle of others. So I found myself here. And while others were risking their lives boarding trains and crossing rivers, I was just another kid opening a new Christmas present every year. While future doctors and builders and thinkers were busy scrubbing floors, I was having fun in college, going through the motions. Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered…
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had not been so lucky. I do not know. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. Yet for the millions of undocumented young adults that live here, for the thousands of DREAMers who found respite this week, it makes two worlds of difference. It means having rights. It means respect and recognition, not as ‘illegals,’ not as second-class citizens but as brothers and sisters of the same species. In comparison, I had it easy. And when I think about how little control we can have over our fates, it makes me lose faith in that American ideal of self-determination.
For the sake of humanity, I hope I am wrong.