By: Sandra Galindo •
“¿Qué se siente ser legal?” (What does it feels like to be legal?) Susy asked Noel after learning that he became a legalU.S.resident.
That’s the type of question an undocumented immigrant asks.
This is the story of Susy, a City College student. A story about living years apart from her mother, of arriving to the United States and coping with the difficulties of being in the country illegally. She is one of thousands of capable students inSan DiegoCountyand millions across theUnited Statesliving the nightmare of not knowing if they will have a future. Susy was eight years old when her mother decided to emigrate from her home state of Guerrero to theUnited Statesin search of a better-paying job to support her two kids, who stayed with their grandmother. Her mother’s absence kept Susy in a state of permanent grief. It hurt so much that after waiting for two years, she begged her mother to return.
She was only ten years old and did not have official permission to immigrate. Her mother decided that they had to be reunited and arranged for smugglers to bring her into the country. Susy took an airplane trip alone toTijuana, where she was transported to a dark house. As soon as she walked in, she noticed other children and adults waiting anxiously, many dreaming of reuniting with family, others dreaming on earning enough dollars to send their families back home. Along the way, the smuggler gave her a new identity, Jamie Mendoza, and told her to practice words in English and to answer “San Diego” when asked where she was born. She agonized for two days how she would act once she reached the border. Finally, the moment to cross through arrived. She had to rid herself of nervousness and fright. When she arrived at the border, the Border Patrol agent did not ask her any questions and she crossed without trouble.
She was about to realize her dream to be with her mother once again, a great achievement for a young kid. The last stop was at a Jack in the Box. She recognized her mother, who was praying. There were hugs, kisses and tears of joy to recover the two years they had lost. But Susy’s new life inSan Diegowould not be easy. Being here meant she had to learn a difficult language with different customs. Susy missed her hometown. She felt apart from all those people who spoke so differently from her, insensitive to her pain of being ashamed of not being able to communicate. She began to fail in her classes. Someone told her that since she had no papers, she would never do anything. That depressed her even more.
“So much sacrifice for nothing? I better return home. I do not relate to anything here,” she thought. If her country could provide some opportunities to better herself, she wouldn’t have had to endure this whole ordeal. Fortunately, she met some advisers at her high school that changed her life. They were from the Chicano Student Movement from Aztlan, MEChA, and they explained to her how the DREAM Act would help undocumented students pursue their education. The DREAM Act is a bipartisan legislation that would give undocumented students who grew up in theUnited Statesa chance to attend public colleges and universities and apply for public financial aid. Governor Jerry Brown took a stand for immigrants’ rights when he signed it into law a few months ago.
“It is a welcome change from the intolerance and counterproductive policies being adopted in so many other states around the country. The law is an investment inCalifornia’s future and a powerful defense of assimilation, education and the rights of children,” were the words Governor Brown told the New York Times Oct. 15 of last year. Susy is the first in her family to receive a high school diploma and the first to go to college. She has become an activist for the rights of undocumented students. Last year inCityCollege, at the IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success) Conference, a student organization that supports undocumented students, asked those in attendance to refer to them as “unprotected” students rather than “illegal.” Changes must begin at the roots.
This is a national issue. According to a White House Blog in December of 2010, the passing the DREAM Act at the national level will allow students to live up to their fullest potential and contribute to the economic growth of this country, something vital for America to remain competitive in today’s global economy. Students like Susy are the future ofAmerica. She is a full-time student who plans to enter nursing at UCLA. She and millions of others will take over the jobs when Baby Boomers retire. Her work as a waitress helps pay for books, but she also helps her mother financially. The California DREAM Act is now a reality, but it’s only one of the many steps in the civil rights movement that we need to enact.
We need to continue encouraging, promoting and supporting the education of undocumented students in theUnited States. They need equal access to higher education, regardless of their immigration status. Ten years have passed since Susy arrived in this country. She has become stronger and gained a voice. She’s aware that she may get deported at any time, but continues to fight for an immigration reform that will allow students like her live better and contribute to their home and society. “I do not live in fear. If I lived in fear I would not do anything,” she said. When asked “What would you tell the opponents of the DREAM Act?” she answered without hesitation, “I’d like to ask them one question, ‘Do you know what NAFTA is?” She is referring to the free trade agreement that Mexico, the United States and Canada signed in 1994; one of the culprits behind undocumented immigration.
In her home state of Guerrero, the agreement left farmers, like her family, unable to compete with American products and to make a living. With few employment options to feed their families, many people had no other alternative than to immigrate to theUnited States. TheU.S., however, makes it virtually impossible to do it legally, so millions opted to move here without authorization to make enough money to send home to their families. Susy works hard to be the best student she can be. She is taking honors classes, and she looks forward to the day she knows what it feels like to be legal. Susy carries on her dream. The dream lives on.