Undocumented. A reality of mine since my family's arrival in the U.S. from Mexico when I was 3 years old. A reality kept hidden from all but those closest to me well into adulthood. Something that's resulted in a lifetime of alienation & limited freedom. Experienced daily by millions across this country. These are words I’ve attempted to piece together my entire life, but never expected I’d share publicly. Writing this, I’m filled with feelings of hesitancy. Years of conditioned silence regarding my status makes this difficult to come forward with, even today. This hidden burden has caused more unnecessary suffering than I can adequately describe in a single written piece, but it’s one I no longer wish to carry silently.
Undocumented Immigrants have been conditioned through fear to keep our experiences hidden. Grim repercussions of what can occur should one's status be exposed remain ever present. Being a witness to and victim of family separation in my childhood educated me on these harsh lessons early on. The limitations of my status revealed themselves during my adolescence and young adulthood. Basic freedoms that average Americans take for granted such as obtaining a driver’s license and legal employment were denied to me. My chances at pursuing education after high school were also severely hindered by my status. These limitations combined with exposure to the anti-immigrant narrative present in American media were constant reminders that I didn’t truly belong. It didn’t matter that I’d grown up in the Midwest or that the U.S. was the only country I’d ever known. In the eyes of many and in the eyes of the government, I was still “illegal.” A horrible word to describe another human being.
My fortune changed in 2012 when DACA was implemented. After years of stalled legislation and constant pressure from immigrant activists across the country, an executive order was signed that provided myself and others with basic freedoms we’d long been denied. DACA permitted young undocumented immigrants who met a strict criteria and passed background checks to legally obtain a 2-year renewable work permit. This meant that I was finally able to legally obtain a job and driver’s license. I’d no longer have to worry that something like a simple traffic stop could result in me being separated from my family & returned to a country I was no longer familiar with.
DACA allowed me to leave my hometown in pursuit of new beginnings. These new freedoms allowed for exploration of parts of myself I’d long abandoned; the most notable being the rediscovery of my love for art. I had a passion for drawing that extended far back into my youth. My earliest memories involve holding a pencil and allowing my imagination to roam freely. This childhood freedom was eventually impeded by the constraints of my everyday reality living undocumented. As I grew older, time once spent creating art shifted towards activities that helped me blend in with peers. The relief of DACA helped reignite a creative fire within me. I was now spending countless hours focusing on my craft. Rapid improvement led to a mastery of drawing which then transitioned into painting. Soon I was connecting with others around the world through my work. My calling had found me, and it’s one I haven’t stopped pursuing. DACA opened the door to new avenues, but creativity helped me discover my voice and experience true freedom. There are no limitations when I have a paintbrush in hand. No alienation or uncertainty. Any reality can be brought to life on canvas. Art has saved me. It's provided me with confidence. Confidence that allowed me to finally share my story with close friends that I’d long kept in the dark about my status. Confidence that now allows me to share my story with the world. My creative journey has taught me that I can connect with others through my work and I want to use my gift to document the Undocumented.
DACA was a temporary reprieve for some, but is not a permanent solution for any. It provides no pathway to citizenship and has relegated us to second class citizen status. It has also excluded many in our communities. Our parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors. Mistreated, underpaid, and forced into labor intensive jobs. Targeted in the media when America has a problem and needs somewhere to lay the blame. A dishonest narrative has been told about who we are as people. We are no different than you. We don’t seek pity, we seek solutions. Major immigration reform has been nonexistent since the 80's and the current system is one built on exclusion and discrimination. Millions have been kept in the shadows for far too long. This cycle of politicians on the left providing us with false promises, while politicians on the right demonize us and strip away our basic human rights has done nothing but cause irreparable harm and trauma to millions. DACA is in legal jeopardy and may end soon. There are no assurances if it does. Now, more than ever, we must have a nuanced discussion about immigration in this country. One that values immigrants for more than just our labor and leads to comprehensive immigration reform for ALL. A humane system for those who seek refuge is desperately needed.
A bleak picture has been painted about us, I want to paint our truth. I want to highlight our beauty, our culture and our creativity. Our perseverance and our immense capacity to feel and to love. Though we’ve been forced to reside in the shadows, we are the People of the Sun. We’re as American as you. We grow up alongside you. We’re in your schools and workplaces. We’ve always been here and we always will be. Ever resilient. We’re not meant to live in hiding, so I choose to set myself free. Free of your shadows and free of your labels. “Undocumented” is a word that was branded on me unvoluntarily. It does not define me. I no longer view myself through your lens, I see myself as much more. Whether you choose to see the same makes no difference. I recognize my value. I will continue to create the freedom that you’ve withheld and I will share my story.
Soy Libre

Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published