by Krsna Avila
The house was pitch black and I was exhausted. I was looking forward to a peaceful sleep to finally put my brain to rest. I’d just driven home from Los Angeles with several friends, and I was already feeling a roller coaster of emotions from our experiences that day. There was no way that I was ready for what was about to occur. As I approached the door, I saw my parents’ bedroom window come alive with a fluorescent yellow light, like the end of long tunnel in a horror movie. I tiptoed inside, careful not to make any unwanted noises.
A crisp beige envelope waiting for me on the dining room table stopped me in my tracks. I immediately recognized the indistinguishable logo on the top right corner. Over the past seven years I had received various heart wrenching letters from the immigration services, denying me the right to belong in a country I had called home since I was four months old. By its weight, I could tell that this one was different. My hands trembled as I studied the envelope a bit more closely. The broken seal implied that someone had already revealed its secret. My mom came out of her room, half asleep. She smiled and encouraged me to keep going. I took a deep breath and slid the letter out. “Welcome to the United States of America,” it read. I stared at those words. I asked myself, “Am I finally welcomed after 23 years of being in this country? Did they just take notice of me now?”
I stood there in shock. Gradually, the irony began to sink in. As I held the letter granting me permanent residency in the U.S., I was wearing my new blue t-shirt with the words “I-Am-Un-Doc-U-Men-Ted” embossed in pearl-white letters across my chest. I was given that shirt earlier that day for a protest. I marched the streets of Los Angeles wearing it proudly with hundreds of others, chanting together “We are the DREAMers, mighty, mighty DREAMers, fighting for justice and our education!” Being undocumented allowed me to become part of a collective of students fighting for all of our rights to belong in the U.S. As “DREAMers,” many of us were brought to this country at a very young age and we grew up feeling and acting American. When we learned about our legal status, for many of us, our world shattered, and it was other “DREAMers” who kept us sane and grounded. See, I am part of a collective, a larger family. When I read that letter, I knew that my prayers were only partly answered; answered for me and not millions of others.
I wondered about my friends, about those I’d fought alongside for the betterment of all of our futures. I thought about New and Catherine, who also found comfort in meeting others who understood what it was like to sacrifice their time and effort to excel academically only to be denied the right to use their education in the US. I thought about my cousin Alejandro, who was 30 years old and still figuring out a way to transfer from a community college to pay for his tuition at a university. I thought about my parents, who had the privilege of becoming permanent residents almost 10 years earlier. Did their feeling of guilt for somehow causing my situation finally disappear? As I thought about the ongoing struggles of my family and my community, stings of pain and gloom flowed through my body. The thrill of freedom was nowhere to be found. I felt only confusion.
“You no longer need to wear that shirt,” my mom explained as she smiled and suggested that I go to bed. That night as I tried to sleep, I did not think about the possibility of finally joining my parents and brother on their yearly Mexico-trips, nor did I ponder my ability to finally work in the US or receive financial aid to go on to law school. My thoughts were only focused on one thing: 23 years of being labeled undocumented could not be erased with this piece of paper—the embarrassment I felt when I told my college suite mate about my legal status only to get laughed at and told that la migra was going to get me; the shame of standing in a line of hundreds of other students, explaining to a school counselor why I did not have a social security number; the many years of being in the shadows, alone and afraid—none of those experiences would disappear with my new status. But neither would my friendships and connections with others who have suffered similar challenges. I knew that my commitment to seek justice for all of us would never disappear.
I got out of bed, firmly folded the letter back to its original shape, slid it back inside the envelope, and placed it on top of a pile of other things I’ve kept hidden from past phases of my life: the pictures of a smiling young me as I played freely in a neighborhood park, my school awards for my educational accomplishments that my parents proudly collected, a photograph of my dad firmly holding on to my mom, smiling before taking the journey from Mexico to the US—they all lay quietly below this new letter. The tears burned my face as I closed the closet door.