My identity is complex. I am not American. I am not Mexican. Along with hundreds of thousands of others, I belong neither here nor there. I am stuck in the middle somewhere.
I grew up having a sense of that.
I remember asking my teachers in elementary school if they could help me get a Social Security number. I knew I didn’t have one, but it’s just a number, right? So the innocence of my childhood thought it would be easy to obtain one. My teacher pulled me aside and told me to keep those things to myself. The severity in her voice and the urgency in her eyes told me that it was a bad thing to not have one. That was the first instance that I knew I was different from my peers. I didn’t understand, but it was the first time I began to live in the shadows.
As I grew older, there were things that my parents cautioned me against “porque no eres Americana” – because you’re not American.
Be wary of who you trust, porque no eres Americana. You never know who could turn you in. Be wary on the road, porque no eres Americana. A routine traffic stop could change your life completely. Be wary of your surroundings, porque no eres Americana. A raid could happen anywhere. Be careful of how you spend your money, porque no eres Americana. You might need that money to help bring you back. Be wary of the company you keep, porque no eres Americana. Your American friends can do as they please, but you can’t.
No eres Americana. Every decision in my life has been clouded by this thought. But another thought was never far behind: Tampoco eres Mexicana. You’re not Mexican either.
So I always worked twice as hard. I had to be more American than the Americans. I had to be more Mexican than the Mexicans (Yes, I am quoting Selena). Somehow everything got messed up and I was too Mexican for the Americans and too American for the Mexicans.
But in 2012, there was validation. President Obama signed the executive order for DACA. Finally there was this sense of “you belong.” I had gone into undergraduate school in 2011 with blind hope that I could somehow get a job at the end of my studies. Thanks to DACA, my efforts and those of my family weren’t wasted.
I was able to get my license, and my family helped me get a car. I was able to begin building my credit. I was able to open accounts under my name.
I finished undergraduate and then finished graduate school. I was granted a North Carolina teaching license and began working with the most overlooked populations in public schools.
For a few years, life was nice. It was comfortable. I was able to leave the shadows.
Sometimes I wonder what’s worse: never having had anything, or having begun to build a life only to have it ripped away?
I understand that DACA is considered unconstitutional because it was a unilateral action by the president and only the legislative body of the United States has the authority to make such decisions. However, President Obama only came to such measures because Congress had failed to come to an agreement for immigration reform. It is expected that DACA will be given its death sentence, and I ask two things of everyone who sees this and has sympathy for “dreamers.”
1. There has been this narrative of “dreamers are blameless youth who were brought to the United States as young children through no fault of their own.” This in turn implies that there is blame to cast upon someone. Namely, this blame gets thrown on our parents. I ask that you not buy into this narrative. Our parents are not to blame. They are not at fault for wanting a bright and prosperous future for their children. My achievements were accomplished as I was standing on the shoulders of my family. Their sacrifices are what drove my successes.
2. Pressure your senators and representatives to support DACA.
I am angry, hurt and scared. But the reality is this one and we are not only dreamers. We are achievers. We are survivors. We are seeds of resilience. No matter what comes our way, we will find a way to be OK. You can help us. Help defend our parents, help defend our students, help #DefendDACA.
I am American and I am Mexican. This is my home. I am here to stay.
America Moreno Jimenez is a high school teacher in Raleigh.