I wasn’t born in this country, but it is my home. All the way through grade school, when I pledged allegiance to the flag and the ideals of liberty and justice for which it stands, I felt a pride that was real and true. I’m American, and I love this country and everything that it stands for.
My love for America is complicated, though, by the fact that I was born in Guatemala, and brought here by my parents when I was just 7 years old. Like my parents, I’m an undocumented immigrant, able to stay in this country and work legally only because of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012.
While I didn’t choose to come here, I have chosen — and worked, year after year — to be a real American, and to show those around me that I belong here as much as they do. Being an immigrant, to me, means not taking for granted the opportunities that America has to offer: I worked hard, all through school, to prove myself and to show my classmates that I was as American as they were.
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When my parents brought me to the United States, I came with nothing but my dreams. Amid the violence and uncertainty of postwar Guatemala, I had dreamed simply of going to school without fear. In America, I was able to live that dream every day, but also to start aiming higher. I began to dream not just about safety and security, but about a brighter future, and about the day when I would one day go to college.
As an undocumented immigrant, that dream hasn’t been easy to reach: I didn’t qualify for government aid, and universities charged me out-of-state tuition. I found a job at a supermarket, walking there every day until I completed training as a medical interpreter, got a better job, and could finally afford a car. I made my education my priority, working overtime to pay for tuition at community college, and eating and sometimes even sleeping in my car in order to make ends meet.
Finally, after two years, I won a Golden Door scholarship that allowed me to transfer to Meredith College, where I’m now majoring in psychology and working at a student-run preschool for children with autism.
Now, I have a new dream: I want to make a difference in the lives of children and their families, and to build a career as a high school psychologist or counselor. Other immigrants have equally ambitious dreams: we want to be doctors, lawyers, or entrepreneurs.
To fix the immigration system, and to allow young immigrants like me to achieve our potential and contribute fully to the country we love, we need positive, lasting reforms.
Young immigrants like me, who were raised in America and identify as American, are called DREAMers for a reason: it’s because we’re marked by our dreams, our ambitions and our determination to make a positive difference in our communities. We love our country, and now it’s time for our country to take action, and help us to keep our dream alive.
Leslie Arreaza is a psychology major at Meredith College.