I used to believe that I was no longer “living in the shadows,” as many media outlets describe undocumented individuals’ realities here in the United States. I came out as undocumented; I was out in the open. This phrase doesn’t apply to me, right? However, I have realized, that could not be further from the truth. Despite all efforts, I am still living in a shadows of sorts– a shadow cast by this place, America.
At 22, sometimes I feel as though I am too young and naïve to know anything, and at other times, I feel like I have been through enough pain to be considered wise. Who knows what the “fair” amount of injustice and suffering one human can take. All I know is we all have our own piece of the pie, some slices bigger than others.
There was a time when my parents had no money to provide our family with a roof over our heads. That time marked our arrival to this country. So, we lived with several other families, totaling 18 people, cramped into a small 3-bedroom mobile home. My father worked tirelessly at minimum-wage earning jobs to try to make ends meet for the family; my mother stayed home to raise us (we were four kids at the time, now we are five).
When I was little, I used to be embarrassed that my parents could not afford their own house and that we did not know the language spoken here. I felt so different from all the other kids at my school and I hated it. I just wanted to be the same.
Then, something changed.
Gradually, with each passing day, I started to understand English. My English improved, and with it, so did my understanding of this new country, our new alleged ‘home.’ I say alleged because I have never felt fully a part of this country; perhaps, that has to do with a lack of paper that tells me that I belong. I used to think that a small thing, a seemingly arbitrary paper is unnecessary to justify to myself that this is my home. I’m not sure if I truly believe that or if I just told myself that enough times to fool myself into believing it.
I learned to blend in as much as I could. With my English and involvement in school, I was just like everyone else, which is all I ever wanted to be. I did not want to stand out. Then, people started getting driver’s licenses and I couldn’t (this was before DACA). Once we got to junior and senior year of high school, my peers were applying to schools and scholarships with the help of their families. I had no family member to turn to and knew being undocumented would make the process even more taxing. The process seemed endless with no light at the end of the tunnel.
I say alleged because I have never felt fully a part of this country; perhaps, that has to do with a lack of paper that tells me that I belong. I used to think that a small thing, a seemingly arbitrary paper is unnecessary to justify to myself that this is my home. I’m not sure if I truly believe that or if I just told myself that enough times to fool myself into believing it.
With hard-work, good people around me, and a stroke of good luck, I received a scholarship and admission to attend Davidson College the following year. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was a “good” school. I joke about this now, but it’s true. I vaguely knew the difference between public and private schools; I say vaguely because the only thing I knew was that I could receive funding from private schools.
Despite all the hardships at Davidson, my time here has been life-changing; I am obtaining a college degree for me, my parents, and our family for free. With me, the cycle of financial stress will end, hopefully.
Now, being a senior, I have had a lot of reminiscing moments. I’m sure that’s normal. I think about all the experiences that I have had at this place.
Being at Davidson is a dream come true. Going to college is something I have always longed for, but it has also been frustrating and difficult for me. Like when I qualified for advance parole to leave the US and come back under DACA. I wanted to go to Ghana so badly over the summer, but with no money, I felt at a loss. I also didn’t know about the grants Davidson provided, so I didn’t go. Now, this administration has revoked advance parole altogether, and with it, my shot at traveling and discovering the world around me.
What makes it even more difficult is that Davidson is a place where international travel is the norm. Almost everyone I know here has traveled outside of the country for educational, leisure or experiential purposes.
Every time my friends talk or post (on social media) about their travel experiences to other countries, I feel different, again, just like I did when we arrived here and everyone knew a different language [English] and had their own physical home; when I was in high school and everyone had jobs and a driver’s license.
Furthermore, I also feel bad when my friends suggest a trip out of the country. I don’t have the funds to go, but even if I did, I don’t have the legal ability to come back here once I leave. It’s happened several times. Their excitement quickly fades into embarrassment and guilt once they realize they made a mistake by mentioning it. I feel ashamed to make them censor their conversations around me. It’s not their fault that I can’t go.
But, sometimes I also feel frustrated. Shouldn’t my friends know not to invite me in the first place? Shouldn’t they know I can’t go, so it sucks to be reminded that I’m stuck here? Stuck in a place where I am not accepted, legally, but have built a life here anyway. Stuck in a place that’s my ‘home,’ yet my family and I are living in the shadows— shadows of endless uncertainty and doubts.
I am eternally grateful for the sacrifices my parents have made and continue to make for me to be here in the first place. I just also wonder if it’s truly worth it. Yes, I have learned English and will graduate from a top-tier liberal arts college, but is that worth us all being stuck here without the ability for them to see their families for 15+ years? Is it worth it for them to have missed their parents’ funerals? Is it worth it for them to miss their hometowns, food, loved ones? What is worth that? America? I am not sure that I believe that or that this will ever truly be ‘home’ for my family.
Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas is a senior Africana Studies and Political Science double major at Davidson College. She is originally from Aguascalientes, Mexico. She cares about immigration and access to education. Upon graduation, she is going to do the College Advising Corps to help first-generation students like herself pursue higher education.