I don’t like to discuss politics on my blog. Actually, I don’t like to discuss politics with on Facebook, Twitter, with friends, with family…basically- I don’t like to say anything regarding politics EVER (which if you know me- is kinda weird). It isn’t that I don’t feel strongly about certain issues and it isn’t because I don’t care. I think it’s actually because I care too much. My story is much like many Americans out there this voting season. I think it’s time I finally tell it.
When I was growing up, my mom voted in every election she could. She never officially confessed her party, she never told me who she voted for or why, her message to me was always- “I am a citizen and your grandparents sacrificed to give me this right- I plan on using it.” That’s right, I come from a family of immigrants. My mom came to the US with the rest of my family at the age of 8. At the time, Peru wasn’t doing so well and their democracy was about to be stripped away. My grandparents knew they had to leave to offer more for their children. They immigrated to the United States around 1967-68 with all the proper paperwork in place and they did so with only knowing 4 common words in English- “Please”, “Where is the restroom?” “Thank you” and “Coffee and donuts” (apparently they watched a lot of cop movies).
I was the first member of my immediate family to be born on US soil, and therefore the first born American citizen. Throughout my life I have enjoyed everything that being a US citizen has given me: I went to public school, I wrote on several school papers, I have always voiced my opinions openly and without fear, hell- I own a blog where my voice is the only thing that matters, and although I may not be swimming in the big bucks, I can pay my rent, clothe my child, pay my bills, and still take the occasional trip to Disneyland with my family. I am truly a representative of what my grandparents once envisioned for their family. They gave me that opportunity by their sacrifice and their beliefs in the country they grew to love.
From 2004-2006 I worked for a non-profit Immigration center in the legal department. Hired only for the fact that I spoke Spanish fluently and had computer software knowledge, I ended up falling in love with my work. But, the economy had changed severely, and as much as I loved my job, it wasn’t paying enough to support myself, and while my family had always come to support me when I really needed it, they had been hit by the recession too. I started to look for a new job with a slightly bigger paycheck and hope I would love it as much as I did that center. I was soon hired by a for-profit Immigration firm and introduced to a whole new world. About a month in I received a file on my desk regarding a family. The father had been caught in an ICE raid and the mother came seeking help as he was being detained with no information being released. We quickly got to work to find out any info on the whereabouts of this father so we could begin to work on getting him home to his family.
When we received the info, it was not good news. The father had a previous “deported” status cause at the border, agents used to catch undocumented immigrants, not tell them what was going on, finger print them and then just release them. Most just kept moving into the States not knowing that this was Border Patrols sneaky little way of marking you as a deportee. Our client was one of these- and as unbelievable as it sounds, it was very very common practice as I had encountered several with the same story. At the time, we were just gathering information to see how we could help, and had not filed anything yet. We knew if we filed it would alert ICE of the family’s whereabouts, and the mother and eldest daughter, a high school senior, were both undocumented. The 4 younger children were all US born citizens and none of them spoke a word of Spanish. We found that his case was being advanced since he was under the 10 year ban for being deported before (cough). She wanted to pursue the case because she felt that her family- upstanding, Christian community members with 4 US born children, deserved a chance at the better life they had already begun to create.
Within a day of our filing, we had our answer. They didn’t even bother to wait for our petition, instead just scheduled the father on flight back to El Salvador within 2 days. We were also informed that ICE was scheduled to come pick up the mother and eldest daughter the following day to start deportation procedures for them both. The 4 younger children would be given the option of being sent with the mother at her cost, being placed with any US citizen family members or to be divided and placed into the foster care system. These four U.S. citizen children, none speaking a word of Spanish and each was an honor student or A/B student with several friends, were about to have their world ripped apart.
…and since I was the main contact for them, I was the one who had to tell them. It killed me inside.
As I relayed the information that was given to me, I held back my own tears and told the mother just what had been told to me. This country could no longer be her home and she had to choose what to do with her children.
The mother stayed silent with slow tears forming in her eyes while her oldest daughter immediately began to cry. Neither saying a word to me, instead turning to hold each other for the what seemed like ages. The younger kids were trying to understand what was going on.They just sat watching their mother and sister cry. Finally, the mother dried her eyes with some tissue I had offered earlier and said, “I will never leave my children- we will leave, we’ll be ready.”
At that point, the children understood what this meeting was about. One by one, they turned to me and I soon had four pairs of watery eyes asking me “Why can’t I stay? We didn’t do anything wrong” one even saying he had a test he had been studying for that week that he just couldn’t miss. Different reasons, each asking why…and I couldn’t give them an answer. All I could do was say I was sorry. The youngest who had just begun kindergarten that year, looked right into my eyes as the family got up to leave and said “But this is my home.”
My heart broke and I was unable to see this country the same way as I once had, the land where dreams came true and everyone could have the American dream. This family only came to this country because they wanted better for their children. It’s the same thing any parent would want, a chance at something better. Isn’t that what the American dream is about?
I believe in the DREAM Act. I believed in it in 2008 when Obama made several promises to change our horrible and broken immigration system. I felt that he would prevent kids, much like the ones in the family I spoke of earlier, from being stripped of a dream they created based on a choice they never had. I believed he would create more families like mine- who, while struggling through this recession, still could provide an education to their children, a roof over their heads and a belief that one person can change the world if they really believed they could. I believed in him and yelled it from every rooftop I could find.
Fast forward to 2012. I felt betrayed and became disillusioned over the past four years. So I have remained silent. Silent cause of the pain that I experienced first hand. Silent because I was angry. I was angry as a first generation Latin American woman, as a mother whose child has just entered the public school system during a hurting economy where City budgets are stripping schools of teachers, arts and supplies. I was angry as the wife of a man who suffered through unemployment, and I was angry as the grandchild of that family that sacrificed everything to ensure we had a better tomorrow. Most of all, I was angry that I didn’t believe anymore.
Over the past months, it was almost impossible not to hear about the issues. I admit, I was paying attention but never once voiced my opinion one way or another. I know where I stand- I support gay rights, women’s rights, the right to choose, I am for universal health care and more money for education. I have always known that my vote would lie with Obama because of the issues at hand. But I was so disenchanted and hurt from the 2008 elections that I wondered if I should even bother voting. I wanted to believe again.
Tonight, I watched the Democratic National Convention by complete accident. I had actually planned on finding the speeches on YouTube tomorrow after reading some dissections of them on several news sites. I sat down to unwind after putting my daughter to bed and, I have to believe my grandfather nudged me from heaven right at that moment, I turned on the TV, and on came NBC just as Michelle Obama was being introduced. And I didn’t change the channel. I sat and I watched. My anger began to step slowly aside and then, I began to I listen. Finally, I began to cry.
When Michelle spoke about her dad, she reminded me of my grandfather. My grandfather worked well past his retirement age at a University in the janitorial department for over twenty five years- never missing work not even once, just so he could provide his family with all their needs. He made sure he always provided and had extra to help someone in need out. He was the type of many that would see a homeless person and buy them a sandwich and some coffee, even if he only had a couple dollars in his pocket. He believed in a better tomorrow for everyone.
In Michelle’s voice, I saw my grandmother who believed in not only my grandfather, but in this country. She believed in them so much that she brought her four babies 3,000 miles away from the only home any of them had ever know, to live in this great country full of promise for their tomorrows. My grandmother who votes in every election and will read a book to her great granddaughter in English, and recite a recipe to me in Spanish.
And in her voice, I started to believe again. My eyes, a little more worn, but still seeking the road to that dream so many before me had. The climb toward achieving it still long and hard, but I am beginning to see what my grandparents once did, what my mother still does and what millions of others, like me, are searching for.
Mr. President, I’m giving it to you. I Believe.