An Immigrant’s Tale

Mar 25, 2011 No Comments

By Jonathan Uriarte

The first time I left home to come for Cal, I hoped for three things: to make a lot of friends, to succeed in my first semester, and to never receive a call telling me my mom had just been arrested and deported. Usually, that last concern isn’t typical of your average Cal student. But, being the son of undocumented immigrants has been the reality I’ve had to deal with for many years. The implications are far greater than what your usual news commentator will tell you and, unlike the stereotypical view of an undocumented immigrant, they don’t come to the U.S. to spread disease and steal American jobs. I may risk sounding cheesy when I say it was fate that brought my family to the U.S., but there is no other way I can explain it. I remember wanting to cry when my mother told me that we’d be going to live with her new husband at the other side of the border, where I’d be forced to speak a language I never truly liked and leave my friends behind. At no point did I ever imagine that such a small decision would radically change my future in a way that I’d be grateful for the rest of my life.

Coming to America wasn’t as glorious as it may sound. Whatever benefit we received from such a great opportunity, we paid it back. It must have been a hard decision for my mother to make. In Mexico, she gave up her post as a defense attorney for the state government where she’d been working for more than twenty years. The minute she crossed the border with her visitor’s visa, she became a nobody. My siblings and I had it better, as we were all U.S. born citizens and were able to slowly get used to our new lifestyle. Unfortunately, things never simplified and our stability shattered as soon as the domestic violence started. I cannot remember how many times the cops come to our home and it always lead to nothing. Being the undocumented wife of an abusive U.S. resident must have been a frustrating and terrifying situation for my mother. I don’t remember much of her feelings, or at least I try not to. I only remember what I consider to be best day of my life: the day he was arrested for possession of illegal substances while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Deportation was imminent and, after that, at age 13, I was left as the male figure of the home.

This was no easy task and, being the only one old enough and with a social security number, left me to get my first job as a newspaper boy. From there on I’ve never stopped working, and this newfound source of independence came with its benefits and obligations. I sometimes thought I was the unluckiest person in the world. Especially during my awkward high school years as I watched my friends drive away afterschool in their BMWs, while talking on their iphones. Meanwhile, I’d often have to go to work right after class and I was unable to even own a phone without the credit rating of an adult U.S. resident. Do not think I’m purposefully portraying myself as a martyr; I am only trying to draw a picture of how children like I was, U.S. citizens, can be emotionally affected by small things as well as big ones. After years of feeling inferior to everyone else—economically, socially and (as a result of both), academically—at some point you start to believe it. In the end, there are millions of kids who are just as I was, the children of an invisible voice in the country of the great and the land of the free. Kids who are always in fear that they’ll be separated from their parents must give up so much in life in order to help out their families—including the possibility to go to college. They must somehow survive on their own in this great society of ours that fails to see beyond the politics of the issue.

The fact is, these scenarios are a reality all over the country and action seems to be very far from coming soon. But immigration is an issue is bound to come back at some point in our lifetime, and I hope this story will helps us remember that we’re talking about more than just men jumping off fences and swimming through rivers. Let’s not take for granted the words of conservative commentators who simply demonize “illegal” immigrants giving no credence to the fact that these are human beings—like me and like you—who are trying to fulfill the American Dream. As I’ve illustrated with my story, people can sometimes find themselves in situations where legal immigration is not an option. I was lucky to survive all these years without incident, and about three months ago, things got even better: I received word my mom had been awarded temporary residency status as a result of the years of abuse she suffered. It turns out that a visa she’d applied for during the Bush presidency had been shelved until Obama took office and was finally granted by U.S. Immigration Services. I am very happy for my mother and it is only now after learning such news that I have the courage to publicly speak about our obstacles. It still doesn’t help keep my heart at ease, as I always think of how many families may be out there still living that nightmare everyday or in fact how many kids may be, right at this moment, living through a horrible separation from their parents. I should know that feeling pretty well, as I imagined it happening a thousand times.

Spring 2010

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