Imagine at nine years old having to leave the only country you ever knew, the relatives you have, the street you grew up on, the familiarity and comforts of your home and being sent thousands of miles away.
In this new country, it is just you and your immediate family. There are no grandparents to visit. No cousins to play with or aunts and uncles to talk to. It is just you, your siblings and your mom and dad.
You all have to learn a new language. Your accent is so thick that most children make fun of you.
You have to learn what to eat since the familiar foods you grew up on won’t be found in any grocery store. You marvel at sandwiches stacked high with only bacon and tomatoes and lettuce and a piece of toothpick to balance it out, and the new smells of “Chinese” cuisine or “Mexican” cooking. You get sick a few times and won’t revisit restaurants until you’re in your twenties.
You all have to get accustomed to the rules of this society. You stand to greet the teacher, as that was the custom in your country. But in this new one, the teacher disciplines you in front of the classroom.
You grow up with an “us” versus “them” mentality. Everyone fit into neat little boxes. Blacks. Whites. Hispanics. Other. Your parents tell you to assimilate and not be an ‘other.’ Don’t stand out any more than you already have.
Flash forward to a few more years where you’ve finally gotten used to the country. You find a few people who used to live where you used to and, together, you have formed a small community where everyone calls everyone aunts and uncles. You suddenly have more space at the dining table for these adopted relatives. There are more presents under the tree for these friends turned into family.
The accent starts to change gradually over time and before you know it, your voice inflections sound like the neighbors around you. No one would question where you came from since you started to sound like everyone else.
Your views of an “us” versus “them” shifts.
You’re an American.
You saw the world crumble along with everyone else on 9/11. You even went to the nearest recruitment office to sign up and fight. The feeling of alienation diminished for you and was replaced with a sense of patriotism.
You would do anything for this country. Your home. For the last twenty some years.
And now imagine for a moment being told that this home no longer welcomes you. You graduated with honors and without government support. You worked your way up from working in the kitchen of a hospital to be a Nutritionist Supervisor. You have a family. You are an upstanding citizen who doesn’t even have any parking or traffic violations, and an active member in the community, be it at church or in the neighborhood.
But for all that you have worked for and given back, you will never be good enough.
You will never be treated as a citizen.
You will never be welcomed.
You will never feel at home.
And all this because your family chose to bring you to another country to better themselves. Your parents did what they thought and believed was the best. You weren’t allowed to voice your opinion because, as a child, did you even believe it would come back to haunt you? No. As a child, you only knew fear. You only knew what was being taken away. You only knew that you were never going to see your relatives or your country again.
Those were your realities and truths as a child.
Now stop imagining this scenario and look up and around you.
As an immigrant, I am fully aware of the legalities and pathways to citizenship. My family spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a work visa, then a green card for a more “permanent” status, and then finally, naturalization. Contrary to popular beliefs, it does not take a few days or months or a visit to the consulate and a demand that you be given citizenship status.
It takes years and a lot of money. You have to have money for an immigration lawyer and continue to pay for that lawyer for years depending on how long you retain their services.
You have to prove your worth here. You have to keep proving yourself over and over again.
It took my family from 1990 to 2001. Let me repeat that statement, it took my mother, who worked as a Registered Nurse and saved all the extra money she had to pay for legal fees and multiple trips to Houston to get citizenship after eleven years. The road to citizenship is hard and paved with money.
I became a United States Citizen in the summer of 2001.
But as a child, I remember being in a newfound country and losing the only home I ever knew. So I can relate and commiserate with the DREAMers of today. Imagine doing so much for the country you grew up to love and would die for, only to be constantly told you are never going to be welcomed here. To constantly be in fear because you will be ripped out and sent to a place that is no longer home or familiar.
Now imagine these DREAMers as your great-great ancestors; because I can guarantee that at some point in your family history, your family escaped from persecution to come to this newfound land. Your family may have assimilated so much that you have forgotten that you were once a product of immigration. A product of a dream.
So regardless of the outcome, I can promise you this: That DREAMer will prevail in whichever place they end up. They did it once and will do it again. My only hope and prayer is that our country doesn’t lose out on some of the great immigrant success stories that this country was built on.
And that includes yours.