Undocumented Value

Every day I ask myself, why me? What makes me special? Why would anyone care about my story? How exactly am I like Jose Vargas, Julissa Arce, and the many other immigration writers I admire and aim to emulate? Before having books published, Jose Vargas found success as a journalist, and Julissa Arce reached success at Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. Then, I realize that this stream of thinking reflects the effect that America’s immigration politics has had on me. I have internalized the belief that for my story to matter, I must have reached The American Dream. Otherwise, who cares? And that is unfair to both myself, and others like me.

I left my job as a receptionist at the most prestigious yacht club in the nation. A few months later, I found myself unemployed from my position at another prestigious private club, due to the Coronavirus. Before the pandemic, I thought I would keep climbing the corporate ladder until I was doing something that made a lot of money, or was worthy of accolades. Then, and only then, when I became ‘someone valuable’ would I write about my journey. 

The Democratic party, in its intention to defend the DREAMers, stereotyped us as overachievers. They argued that we deserved a path to citizenship because of how we beat the odds by getting into Ivy League institutions or earning PhD’s, despite our underprivileged upbringings. That is true of some, but not all, and the rest deserve citizenship just as much. They deserve a chance to live without limits or fear, with permanent and unrestricted legal status simply because they are good people, people who grew up in America, wanting to contribute to America. Period.

And that, I remind myself, should be the basis of my self-worth. No, I didn’t attend one of America’s most coveted universities, and I didn’t enroll in a post-grad program. When I was finally afforded the chance, I applied to universities which I was told were easy to get into, and I settled for a Bachelor of Fine Arts, in business. Along the way, because of my five year stint at community college, I learned so many trades it makes my head spin. I overcame addictions, traumas, and mental health issues. I made meaningful connections in my community. If I were an American citizen, there would be no question of my worth, and all of those things would be admirable in themselves. 

The undocumented children, known nationally as DREAMers, and most recently as DACAmented are all worthy of admiration if they have managed to do worthwhile things at all,  despite the stolen time, resources, and dignity that they have suffered. The mere fact that they have somehow managed to be ‘normal’ people despite their extremely abnormal circumstances, is a testament to the strength and resilience that they have within them. We were not supposed to achieve anything, so any achievement is beating the odds. And when I look at myself through that filter, I can answer my own question. I then find the motivation to sit down with my laptop, and conviction to share my story. 

The fact that I ask myself that question even after achieving things I never thought I would, shows the gaslighting that America has subjected us to. Since the moment my best friend told nine-year-old me, “you know, we’re illegal, right?” and explained to me that it meant we had to live under the radar like fugitives, I spent most of my life convinced I would amount to nothing more than underpaid “unskilled labor”. After fifteen years of hammering that idea into my mind, I then spent the next three to five years racing against time, toward the ideal that I was now suddenly branded with. I was not only trying to catch up to my American peers, but also hoping to exceed them, just so that I could measure up to the high standards that were suddenly imposed on me.

So, how exactly am I like Jose Vargas and Julissa Arce, and the many other undocumented writers I admire and aim to emulate? I was not supposed to have a life at all, and I have overcome that. I have done things that I never saw in my trajectory– even in the best case scenarios– including getting my degree and revisiting my country of citizenship. Sharing my story has connected me with immigrant readers and creators, who are just as inspirational and whose stories are all so beautiful and important. My hope is that in sharing my story, and documenting its value, helps others who were stuck in limbo feel seen.

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