My whole life has been a lie. This is so because I don’t belong in my own “home.” I never did. It’s even possible that the home that I’ve lived in for sixteen years doesn’t even know I exist. My home is the land of the free; I am not free. In fact, I am illegal.
The thing is that I never chose my home, I had no knowledge of it because I was just a small two-year-old girl on that truck with my dear mother. It was that decision that my parents made and that ride that changed my life. People are told not to cross the line, but when they are forbidden, the yearning, the desire is stronger than ever, and maybe it isn’t the desire of crossing the line, but that burning, passionate feeling of hope and wonder for what’s beyond that line. To us, crossing that line meant hope, something far better than what we could ever have in our old home.
Crossing over meant a new beginning; a better future. Through the years, I began to realize that sixteen years ago, I was condemned for as long as I remained in my new home. There was no turning back because as far as I knew it, I was already an illegal Mexican girl living in a place by the name of “Opportunity, “ or better known as America.
Adapting to moving away from home is difficult when it is sudden, but it is far more unfortunate to adapt when one is not even conscious of moving homes or in my case, moving to a foreign country. I wasn’t aware that I had just moved secretly. I didn’t understand why no one understood the words that came out of my mouth, the words that came naturally to me. It was treacherous when I couldn’t understand my teachers in the most basic levels of learning. I would stare blankly at the words on the paper or on the board, and nothing, absolutely nothing would come to me because no matter how hard I looked at them, they made no sense.
I kept everything hidden from the day that I understood I was illegal. At school, I began to notice my differences with those other small children in my grade. I would yearn to be American. I had a friend back in elementary school. She would talk about going to places with her family, and my young mind always wondered how people were able to travel to new places and I couldn’t. One time, she asked if I was a citizen. At first, I didn’t know how to react. I couldn’t tell her why my eyes weren’t able to see the beauties of the world. I didn’t want to show my illegal disadvantage. I remember my palms getting sweaty and my heart, that small ten-year-old heart, beating and pumping against my will with fear of being found out as an illegal immigrant. My heart was locked up inside its cage because I was afraid that if I truly opened up to someone, anybody, it would betray me and speak the truth, the ugly truth. As my heart beat to the rhythm of fear, I lied. I didn’t know what to do, I was afraid. I told her that I was a resident.
Throughout my elementary years, I kept my real identity hidden. Most of my friends were American girls, and everything was so easy for them, at least that’s what I believed. With each day, I began to hate myself. I hated the fact that I was Mexican. I was embarrassed of myself, of my color, of my background, and of my name. I didn’t want anything to do with being Mexican, especially being an illegal Mexican girl.
As a Mexican, I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt left out, and I let myself become the shy quiet girl, because honestly, that was better than being that undocumented Mexican girl who didn’t belong. By the time I entered high school, I was beginning to understand the pain and the true shameful struggles of being illegal. My elementary scare was absolutely nothing compared to what was heading my way. My breaking point was sophomore year. This was the year that my classmates were already driving. They had already reached yet another privilege, to feel free and independent. I wasn’t them and I couldn’t be them, not for a while. It felt humiliating to see all those sixteen-year-old kids that I had known for years walk around those halls with their keychains and licenses, while I had nothing. I would watch as the teens drove without even contemplating just how truly blessed they were to even be able to drive a vehicle.
My first semester of sophomore year I was given hope. The Dream Act (DACA) was presented to me by my parents. They told me that they were applying for me. It was in that moment that my heart was finally willing to hope. I remember feeling like I could breathe, like I could become free of my illegal chains. The main key for me was to be patient, and to give it all to God.
I allowed myself to dream of someday being or at least feeling American. I had a tremendously huge desire to be accepted in order to be able to drive and work; to become free and independent like everyone else around me. I was hopeful. No matter how hard we try, not everything goes as planned. I had a dream and that dream was to apply and be accepted immediately after. It all felt easy, maybe way too easy for an illegal immigrant girl.
That same year, the presidential elections took place. The news said it all. Being an illegal Mexican immigrant to some Americans meant that we were not humans, that we were just thieves, rapists, drug traffickers, and mindless field workers. It all felt like I was being punched, because it wasn’t just one person that believed that about us, it was multiple individuals. The people living in a place I considered to be my home wanted people like me out. They wanted people like me to be deported because we were the problem. Millions of other people like me were out there. Many families were being separated and thrown out of their beloved home, their home that was presented to them as hope and opportunity. I was living in a place where people hated me, and I had been too blind to see that fiery hate that burned in their eyes. It all became too much.
My rock and my comfort was God. I was allowed to cry to him and let my pitiful tears stream down without feeling judged. I was exhausted of having hope, especially if it wasn’t guaranteed. After having my home turn its back on me, I turned to God. I asked him to restore my faith in DACA. Even if I couldn’t become a resident or a citizen like I had yearned for years, I wanted to be able to get a license, drive a car, and have a job. I hoped that DACA would fix everything, or at least allow me to feel like I belonged, like I too had an opportunity.
If only. If only I was born in America. If only my parents didn’t bring me to America when I was two years old. I used to say that every day. The sad reality is that “if only” is never going to happen, because it already has. I can’t think back and wish that things were different because for some reason, God allowed this to happen. He allowed my family to cross that border safely, although illegally. Maybe God chose this path for me, because he knows that I will surpass this turmoil. It was so hard for me to accept the fact that yes, I have lived as an illegal immigrant, and that I am simply that. I am no less than a human, and being illegal has given me many setbacks and bruises in my heart, but I am still here. I’ve felt that my only home that I’ve known, America, has rejected me without even knowing my dreams and intentions, but that’s alright now. I don’t need to prove myself to a country that doesn’t acknowledge my worth. I know my own worth now. I am a dreamer who is fighting to make those dreams a reality. So far, it’s been excruciatingly hard to accept being illegal, and yes, I know being illegal is a “crime.” But, I am not a criminal. I was told that I will never be happy by wanting what I don’t have if I’m not happy with what I have now. Right now, in this moment, I have a family, I have God, I am alive, I thankfully have DACA, and I am still an immigrant with dreams and hopes.
Bio: My name is Maria Hernandez and I am a first generation student. When I was in elementary school, I hated to read and write because I struggled to learn English. My 2nd grade teacher never gave up on me and that led to my love for books. In middle school, I found my passion for writing. I continued to write and it made me realize that writing was what I did best. Writing gives me so much joy and fulfillment. I believe that words hold an everlasting impact to all of us and as a writer, this is a foundation for my stories. I want to leave an imprint on others with my stories. I love to create stories, and I especially love when others connect to them. That is what I want to do as a writer. I also love that words have power in them and that words are a form of art.