My name is Cinthia and I am undocumented. I am coming out of the shadows because I am no longer afraid.
Cinthia with NCDT members in Washington DC for #DreamGrad2012
I came to this country in 2005, following my mother and siblings. As soon as I arrived, my mother enrolled me in school. I started learning English. But I also learned how much exclusion hurts when you don’t speak the same language or know the same games as everybody else. I made a promise to myself that from then on I would make sure everyone around me felt welcome, whether in school games or in life. I always knew I was undocumented, and mom would always tell me not to share my status for fear of deportation. Back then I had no idea what being undocumented meant. In my sophomore year, the reality of being undocumented hit me. I knew that I was not able to get my driver’s license because I lacked that 9-digit number, and then my school counselor told me that going to college was going to be impossible because of my status. At that point, I felt like everything was over. I began to question why I was still in school if there was nothing after high school for me. My grades began to drop. To make matters worse, I was so stressed out that I started having anxiety attacks. I had lost hope.
I remember my mother telling me that this was a land where I could work hard and make my dreams come true. One thing that my mother did not tell me, and I did not know, is that living in this country would require us to always be in fear. I lived with a cloud over my head; the excruciating fear that I felt every time I saw a police officer in my rear view mirror as I was driving to work. I spent years in denial, keeping my head down whenever I was told I don’t belong here, that my mom is a criminal, a lawbreaker, taking advantage of the system. I was ashamed and I couldn’t wake up. I didn’t wake up when I realized that years of hard work would be going to waste- like the times when I would stay up past midnight waiting for my mom to come home, exhausted from a 12-hour shift, to drive me to the store to buy a poster board for my homework. I didn’t wake up when I was offered a job I had to deny because of my status for the first time, or the second time, or the third time. It didn’t hit me because it’s easier to live in denial. It’s easier to not get up in the morning, to stay under the covers hiding my tears in shame from the world. It was easier to pretend everything was okay and that someone else would fix it for me. Then, I came across a video from the #Raleigh3. It was the first time I heard someone say that they were undocumented out loud.
Over 600 undocumented youth at #DreamGrad2012 in Washington DC
I couldn’t understand it. It was mindblowing. How could they put themselves at risk of detention and deportation like that? How could they risk being separated from their families, friends, and country? And how could I expect others to sacrifice for me while I sat and did nothing? That’s when I woke up and realized that I am a human being. I had to confront myself and my fears before I could take action. Finally, I decided to leave the fear behind and stand up. This past Tuesday I traveled to Washington DC for the annual DREAM graduation. As each person on stage told his or her story, parts of my story and parts of the tales of other undocumented youth were reflected in their words. Because of their encouragement, I can finally say that I am undocumented. I am unafraid to say so and take action. The allies are unafraid to stand with us and openly support the work we do together. And I am unapologetic about staying in this country that I dare call home without documents. I also refuse to apologize for the fact that me, my family, and my fellow DREAMers want better lives for each other and for our communities. I will not allow anyone to be ashamed anymore. There is no shame in dignity, no shame in pride. There is no shame in tears. I, with my head raised high, can finally look my mother in the eye and tell her “I don’t blame you.”
Coming out as undocumented is not an easy thing to do when you grow up keeping quiet about your status to avoid being separated from your family, especially nowadays that undocumented immigrants are being persecuted and deported in record numbers, and nowhere seems safe. But no one will know our stories unless we tell them and make people listen. For me it has been the most effective way to connect to other undocumented youth. United we will fight to change the stigmatization and stereotyping around what it means to be an immigrant and what it means to be undocumented. After all, immigrants are human too. Today, I’m putting my whole life on the line, because I’m tired of being afraid, and I’m tired of putting my life and the well-being of my family on hold. I am 22 years-old now. I’m tired of waiting for someone to decide when I am- when we are- going to be free in this country I call home. I will no longer take the easy way out and go to school abroad, if not at all. I’m not living in the shadows anymore. I’m not going to live in fear. I choose to stay here and fight.
NCDT at #DreamGrad2012, image by Jessica Coscia
My name is Cinthia. I am #Undocumented, #Unafraid, #Unashamed and #Unapologetic.