A DREAMer’s Story

October 12, 2017

By Maria (name changed)

Photo by Kristina M M on Unsplash

“I want to go with you! I want to go with you!” I screamed to my older sister at five years old.

“No, you need to stay. You need to be brave. Our mom is going to come for us, and you need to be here to take care of her,” my sister replied.

My sister, a mere 12 years old, died from tetanus shortly after this response on her way to a hospital in Mexico.

My Life in Mexico

My mother raised me and wanted the best for my siblings and me. We had nothing and my father spent most of what we did have on drink. My mother wanted to care for us and so she took the risk of crossing the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) in search of work and a place to bring our family back together in the United States. We lived with my dad until he got jealous and ran after her to the United States. My siblings and I were left with our godparents. Our neighbors taunted us with comments that our parents were very happy without us.

I remember the day in my life when I felt my absolute worst and the most overwhelming joy—it was the same day. My sister had just died of tetanus. My younger sister had died a year earlier, my older sister had left me with godparents and my parents were in the United States. I had never felt so alone.  

I was standing under banana trees where I lived when in the distance I noticed a woman walking. This woman was wearing the most brilliant green dress with light shining behind her. I thought it was God. I thought this woman was my savior. This memorable moment was interrupted by someone grabbing my arm and telling me, “That is your mother. She is going to take you to the United States.”

“¡Mijita, mijita! [My daughter, my daughter!]”

I ran to my mom and she wrapped me in her arms.

Crossing the Border

I travelled to the United States on the safety of my brother’s shoulders as we crossed the Rio Bravo. My little legs sank knee deep in the mud as we arrived on the banks of the U.S. side of the river.

My mother led us to the apartment she had been renting where we discovered the community she shared with others living a similar life. They had created community for one another when so many had been separated from the only family they had known. My father was there too.

Footprints near the U.S./Mexico border

Immediately I began school and loved it. I loved learning. I especially enjoyed math and dreamed of becoming a math teacher. School provided an escape from the fear I often encountered when I returned home. My parents worked in the fields from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. When I walked to the door after school many times there would be a note for me: “Immigration took your parents, stay inside, eat something and don’t talk to anyone. Your parents will come back later.”

The fear of separation crept in again. I learned quickly that there are many fears in life, and if you let them sink in they will sweep you away.

I continued going to school but people in my neighborhood would tease me. “Why are you going to school? You are not going to be anything here in the United States.” I was an A and B honor roll student. In the sixth grade the teasing continued from my peers, my neighborhood and my teachers. I dropped out. My seventh-grade year I went to the fields to work with my mom instead of school.

DACA Offers New Hope

In 2012, I learned that President Obama created the DACA program, a permit for children that arrived here before age 16 and who had a diploma or GED. I was angry with myself because I didn’t finish high school. So I decided to get my GED. I studied very hard because I really wanted a permit to work. I studied and passed the GED in four months. I applied for DACA and after a year I received my permit.

The opportunity to get a job that allowed me to discover my gifts gave great purpose to my life. My job also encouraged me to keep learning and develop my leadership skills—an encouragement I had not experienced in my past. I enjoy serving my community through this work of empowering people to be civically engaged for a better life.

Uncertainty I Have Known All My Life

“Family is the soil where we sink our roots.” Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

September 5, 2017: the announcement that DACA was rescinded passed the screen of my phone. Fear hit my stomach, and I felt like everything was falling apart. I have worked hard to get to where I am in life, and so have my parents. I am with my family and we are able to care for one another. This announcement made me feel as if all of my efforts would be reversed. Today, I am an adult, and I have responsibilities for my home, my car, taxes and my community, but my greatest worry is my family. My parents have sacrificed many things to give my siblings and me a sufficient life, but they are aging, and now I need to care for them.

The decision for DACA is uncertain, and this uncertainty I have known well in my life—the uncertainty of being together with my family. My hope is there will be a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers that feels secure, just as I felt when my mother scooped me up in her arms. I hope that God will transform Congress’ hearts to better understand the importance of keeping families together. Family is the soil where we sink our roots. DREAMers—we don’t stand alone.

This first-person account was submitted from ARISE, a ministry co-sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

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