By Ashley Benavidez
When we talk about that in the abstract, it’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of “us” versus “them.” And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of “us” used to be “them.” We forget that. –President Barack Obama
The following are the monologues from interviews I conducted with Dulce, Bibi and Hector– three undocumented, college-age friends from Arizona, a hot spot of the immigration battle.
Dulce: My family and I are from a very remote and poor ranch in Guanajuato, Mexico. My mom was one of the smartest students in her entire school and was offered a very rare opportunity to go to college in Mexico City. My grandpa was not the most progressive mind at the time and refused to let her go. She missed out on a once in a life time opportunity for a better life because according to social standards of the time there simply was no place for women in higher education. My father only went to school up to the fifth grade and then was forced to provide for his family along with all his other siblings. Education was not a priority over survival. My father has known back breaking labor since he was very young and my mother knew what lost opportunities felt like. They wanted to break the cycle.
My father migrated to the United States, for the first time, shortly after he found out that my mom was pregnant with me. He traveled to a foreign country alone, not knowing the language or what was around in order to provide for his family. My father missed my birth and my very first months of life because he was trying to make sure I had formula to drink and diapers for my mom to change me into. He would be gone for months at a time and whenever he would come back I would cry because I would see him as a stranger and not as my father.
When my sister, Bibi, was a few months old my parents made the decision to immigrate to the United State together and begin to build the American Dream. After reading the letters my parents sent one another it is touching to see the kind of process they went through to finally come to that conclusion. That was one of the biggest sacrifices any parent could make for their child.
I was 2 years old when my mom, 8-month-old Bibi and I traveled across Mexico to meet my dad at the border and then travel the Sonoran Desert together. Shortly after meeting my father, we were chased by the border patrol. My mom and dad had to shield my sister and me from the sharp thorns of nearby bushes. We were exhausted, tired, hungry and dirty but we were so close to “freedom” that we did anything possible to make sure we made it across. Our extra water, back packs full of baby formula, diapers, extra clothes and food were left out in the desert. We crossed with nothing but the clothes on our back. My parents could hear the sirens of the border patrol around us; they could hear the voices of the officers closing in! We hid inside the garage of a home close to the border waiting for the helicopter sounds to fade and the men with guns to disappear. The slightest noise could have alerted every one of our whereabouts. I was young but I think I understood what was happening. I stayed perfectly still and my sister remained eerily quiet for a baby. We made it across and we met up with a few of my dad’s friends at a local McDonalds. The American Dream had begun.
“Dream” – The word goes beyond the context of our bedtime fantasies. It conjures a driving force. One constructed by relentless hope, fueled by ambition and adrenalized by the conquering will to achieve no matter the obstacle.
The “American Dream” is a glorified concept– to make something out of nothing, to work your way to the top through commitment and hard work.
Imagine you are someone who is doing everything they say is necessary to follow this “dream.” If there were a Follow Your Dreams for Dummies book, you would’ve completed every last step up to your senior year of high school. Then, when applications to schools are being completed, letters of acceptance returned and all of your peers are receiving exciting scholarship letter awards, all of a sudden, there’s an undeniable difference between you and them. It isn’t grades or academic performance. You may be the top of the tier or nestled in the crowd, it doesn’t matter. Because that single difference is enough to separate you from them.
Bibi: It’s funny, when I was still in high school I always knew I was from Mexico but it never hit me how much that would affect my life after I graduated.
Hector: My parents sat me down and started to explain what the laws were and why I wasn’t able to do a lot of things I really wanted to do.
Dulce: I was raised to believe that if you worked hard things would work out and that is what I held on to throughout high school. I thought four years would be enough for some sort of solution to be made.
You are undocumented. You’re not eligible for financial aid through the government, nor can you receive scholarships for your hard work in academics. Things as routine and basic as getting a license and your first job are impossible for you, even though you could successfully fill out every blank spot on an application except for a social security number.
Bibi: Before I knew it, I’m getting ready to graduate and at that point, I still hadn’t figured out my school situation.
Dulce: I hated talking about college or about FASFA. My friends would spend the entire lunch period time talking about how much money they were hoping to get and the kind of things they were excited about when it came to college. All I thought about was, “How on earth was I going to pull that off?”
Hector: I found out I wouldn’t be able to get any scholarships…I come from a family where education stopped at the age of fourteen, because they couldn’t afford a higher education.
All of a sudden, you’re brutally awakened from your dream.
Bibi: The first few months out of high school were probably the worst. I hated everything. I thought I would be able to go to Grand Canyon University, but I was short a few thousand dollars, especially since I had to pay out of state tuition. I always thought being at the top of my class, I’d be at a university. I was so ashamed of myself. A challenge I faced, even at the community college level, was having to pay $1,000 per class, plus books, to even attend. Everyone else who went to Phoenix College could pay their tuition with the same amount I was paying for one class. But I still went to school. Even if it was one class, I still went because I always knew my education was important to me.
Dulce: I’d been really excited about finally going to college and beginning that new chapter. Instead, I woke up crying night after night. I had panic attacks because, for the first time, there was something I had no control over. There was nothing I could to change my status. Can you imagine looking for scholarships and every time you thought you found one that you qualify for, after starting the application process you come to find out the lack of a SSN number disqualifies you? My mom would push me to look for alternative ways of paying for school and every time I came to a dead end I would be heartbroken. My self-esteem couldn’t take it.
Then, everything seems like it’s falling apart and it feels like everyone’s against you.
Hector: If I got arrested, I was capable of getting deported, even if it wasn’t a big deal. I was “an illegal”, so it didn’t matter if it was a felony or not. I couldn’t work without documentation. So I tried to do what my parents did and work illegally, but they wouldn’t allow it. Time flew, I grew. I was impatient. So, I started selling drugs (hustling). I learned from a friend who was also illegal. He had a lot of good reasons, so I did it. I was an illegal. I was already breaking the law, so I didn’t care.
Dulce: I felt that my life was out of my hands and that absolutely terrified me. The fact that I was a good student, volunteer and otherwise model citizen did not matter because I did not have papers. There were many times my frustration and fear made me lash out at the wrong people. I am ashamed to say there was an incident where I erupted with so much anger I asked my mom, “What were you thinking coming to this country illegally?!” I blamed her for all my troubles and with venom in my words I said, “Thanks to how I came to the United States, I now have no future.”
Bibi: Everything felt pointless. It was hard to get past the self-loathing. I’d contemplated a lot of things…stupid things. At the end of the day, Dulce was always there to help me through those weird “episodes.”
Imagine living in fear. With the SB1070 law that was passed in Arizona, which required police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there was “reasonable suspicion” they were not in the U.S. legally, those who were undocumented became confined to the shadows. The influence of notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio was powerful enough for a series of raids to be permissively performed throughout Maricopa County, Arizona. Areas heavy with Hispanic culture were specifically targeted.
Dulce: It was one of the darkest years of my life. All hell broke loose. People were now literally afraid to leave the house, becoming real prisoners. There was an understanding that if you told the wrong person that you were “illegal” it could bring the wrath of Sheriff Joe your way. The immigration debate was heating up and the criminalization of all undocumented immigrants was blasted on the news. I truly began to feel trapped and scared for my life, not just my future.
Hector: They could be doing not one bad thing, but if they got questioned by an officer or any federal law, they could be immediately taken away and sent to Mexico without their families even knowing. I had a friend whose dad got deported at WORK, and he had to change his whole life around. His whole family had to move to Mexico and leave everything behind, like their home they’d lived in most of their lives. I knew many others who had their parents taken away from them as well. That was the one thing I feared the most – losing my parents.
This is the nightmarish reality for millions of people all over the country. For a long time, they’ve been living in silence, in fear…until now.
Dulce: I began to see the kind of network my community could be. The potential of an organized and united community was there, I was just too inexperienced to see it. For the first time since high school I felt the chains of limitation broken. I’d seen pain, suffering, hopelessness, fear and tears everywhere I went. I was now witnessing a strong powerful motivated community of leaders determined to create change.
Hector: Then a lot of laws started to change and they were good. It gave me faith.
Bibi: I learned to accept my situation and I knew I had to find a way around it. Dulce and I got involved with ADAC (Arizona Dream Act Coalition) and everything has been history since. We were doing all these things I never knew were possible. Then, one day they announced Obama’s executive order and, before I knew it, I was on the news crying my eyes out.
A new law set forth by the Obama Administration called the DREAM Act– the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (the DREAM Act), its purpose:
“…is to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation.” (Dreamact.info/students) – has encouraged them to come out of the shadows, to speak up and to fight for the opportunity to chase their dreams.
Hector: I had always had plans of what I would do if this day ever came. This was an opportunity for me to prove myself, not only to my parents but to everyone. I’d finally be able to work and go to school with no worries; be able to go to college and study what I want to do for a living, dedicate myself to a job I know I’d be great at.
Bibi: A few days after they announced the executive order, my teacher reached out to me and told me a friend of hers wanted to donate money to me so I could continue going to school, and then I was crying AGAIN! I thought to myself, “Holy crap! Here is this stranger willing to donate money to me without even knowing who I am.” Yet, she believed in me and believed I was someone worth investing in. I had never felt so touched in my life.
Dulce: Looking back I cannot believe I am part of something so huge. I was one of the main organizers on two campaigns that mobilized the Latino Vote during election season, and helped thousands of DREAMERS with their deferred action. We demanded the opportunity for an “education not deportation”. It has been an amazing process and the once sleeping giant is very much awake now.
The progress that’s been made wasn’t easy, but these DREAMERS have personal inspiration to keep them striving for a more promising future.
Dulce: I’m not willing to give up because then it would mean that everything my parents had already sacrificed was for nothing.
Bibi: They did what they felt they needed to do in order for Dulce and me to have a better life. My mom didn’t want us to end up like the rest of the girls from “El rancho,” married to old guys with a bunch of kids, too poor to afford the basic needs.
Hector: The tremendous struggle my family had to go through just to live in Arizona is what wakes me up and makes me hungrier to succeed. They were taking a huge risk just to feed and clothe us, and provide a roof over me and my siblings’ heads.
They know how suspenseful and challenging the road to reform will be, but they’re DREAMERS, and they have no intentions of letting up.
Hector: Our future will be brighter, and as for the state of Arizona, it will be better.
Dulce: We walk the streets shouting,”Si se puede!” Yes, we can!
Bibi: I can’t give up now. I just can’t. I think it’d be harder for me to quit than it would to keep going. I’m happy and optimistic to see a lot of politicians participate in the immigration topic, but I also realize how difficult passing a reform is going to be…This is my home. Mexico is as foreign to me as it is to you. As long as I have my good health and a working body, I’ll keep fighting for us until I can be called a citizen of the United States.
Throughout our history, that has only made our nation stronger. And it’s how we will make sure that this century is the same as the last: an American century welcoming of everybody who aspires to do something more, and who is willing to work hard to do it, and is willing to pledge that allegiance to our flag. – President Obama