Anthony1 who self-identifies as a DREAMer2 grew up and attended school in the Phoenix metro area. He has been married for seven years. Although he was born in Mexico, beyond family stories, he has little memory of his parents’ homeland since he moved to the U.S. as a child. Anthony is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to enroll in college, but in the meanwhile he proudly cares for his 18 month old daughter and a niece and nephew full time.
I have no recollection of being brought to the United States; after all I was a 4-year-old child. Growing up I had the good fortune of being raised in an environment that never forced me to think about citizenship in terms of documentation and social security numbers. I attended elementary schools where children of different races learned and played together, and in my mind we were all citizens. I never recall knowing or wondering about anyone’s documentation status or who was an American. In my mind we were all American and we all had dreams.
From early on, one of my dreams was to enter the professional world. Even in elementary school I had a passion for the professional world and the tools that accompanied that world. I was obsessed with office supplies like pens and notebooks. I would arrange my supplies neatly in my binder and imagine my future as a lawyer or in an office job. There was something about briefcases and suits that always caught my attention. School was an opportunity to demonstrate my readiness for the professional world, which might be why academic success came easily for me. The “American Dream” felt so real back then, and I had what I believed to be very American dreams for a boy growing up—getting a job, buying a car, helping my family, and making them proud.
As my 16th birthday approached I was giddy with what the next weeks held in store for me. Across the street from my house a new grocery store had opened up—the perfect job opportunity for me to save up for my first car. On the morning of my birthday I ran over to apply for my first job. As I filled out the application I remember feeling such a sense of excitement because in the back of my mind I thought about finally buying that car I had been wanting. I worked my way through the application, but there was one question I didn’t know how to answer—“What is your social security number?” At the time this did not seem like a big issue, I would just run home and ask my parents.
Application in hand, I ran home to get my social security number. My parents responded to my request with silence as their eyes locked over furrowed brows. For the first time my parents told me I was undocumented and that I was unable to legally work in this country.
The realization of that moment crept over my body. In a single string of words I was no longer the U.S. citizen I had lived my life as. Anger gripped my body. I ripped up my application and ran to my room and started crying. I felt hopeless and while as a teenager I thought, “How am I ever going to buy that car I wanted?” I have since lived with the greater questions of “How can I provide for a family?” and “How can I fulfill my dreams?”
That day changed my life drastically. Physically I was the same person, but socially and emotionally so much changed. In many ways I have learned to live in the shadows. I still managed to get the job at the grocery store, but that job took on a new meaning. It was no longer about a boy trying to save up for a car. It became a boy realizing that if something jeopardized that job he may not be able to get another one. Subsequently, I was at the will of my employees. If they needed me to work until 1:00 am, I did it without question. As a high school student, this soon led me to a fork in the road. I was working six days per week until 1:00 am and had to be up by 6:00 am to catch the bus to school. I was quickly realizing that I couldn’t do well in school and work. School no longer offered the promise it once had. After all, the only thing I could hope to do after graduation was find a job that was willing to look the other way. Those kinds of jobs do not care about high school diplomas. Knowing that it was risky getting any other job and realizing that college was out of the question, I decided to drop out of school and focus on my job that was making me money. I was even able to finally buy my first car, a 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
I have had blessings in my life. For one, I have been married for 7 and a half years and I have been blessed with a beautiful 15-month-old daughter. Despite the fact that I am undocumented and chose to leave school, I have had opportunities to work as a customer service representative in the offices like the ones I had imagined as a child. I worked so hard that I was promoted to a customer service manager and even a general manager, but I have had to experience those moments wondering how long it would be until my documentation status caught up to me. So my hard work has not gone unnoticed or unrewarded, but it remains bittersweet. I’m 30 years old, and I have been here most of my life yet, in reality, I am nothing more than a person hiding in the shadows.
When the twin towers were attacked, I cried alongside U.S. citizens. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I donated to the Red Cross. When the national anthem plays, I stand with pride. Despite these deeply engrained feelings of emotion and pride for this country that I consider my own, there are times when reality hits and I realize that I am not an American and hopelessness sinks in.
At the age of 22 I married my beautiful wife, a U.S. citizen. For the past 8 years, we have talked to many different lawyers about my documentation status, and we left every single one of them with less hope. They all said that I would have to leave the country until they review my documents, which can take years and still runs the possibility of being denied. Then I was told that the Mexican city I would have to go while waiting is the number one murder capital in the world, being more dangerous than Iran and Iraq. I would leave every lawyer’s office so hopeless.
Last June, while I was getting ready for work, President Barack Obama came on the news announcing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Tears welled up in my eyes and I thought of the day, as a teenage boy, when my parents had told me I was undocumented. I now had President Obama telling me I had the opportunity to come out of the shadows. I cried tears of joy and wondered if I would be eligible.
When the requirement list for DACA came out, I went down the list thankful that I was meeting the eligibility requirements—except one. I did not finish high school, which was one of the requirements. I was, however, eligible to take the general education development (GED) exam. I was now 30 years old and the thought of becoming a student again was terrifying, but I knew this was my only opportunity to achieve my dreams.
I looked and looked for a school to help me and no one could because in Arizona you need two forms of identification to register for public schooling. As we all know, undocumented immigrants cannot get U.S. government identification in Arizona. Finally, I found a school that charged me to attend. For four months I attended evening classes to prepare me to take the content subcomponents of the GED. I paid attention in class even when I was exhausted or frustrated. I also made sure to do my homework and did additional research on the internet to help me understand the school work that I was having trouble with. I took all four subject-area tests plus an essay test and passed them all on the first try.
I am now proud to say that I now have my GED certificate. I now meet all of the DACA eligibility requirements and I currently am waiting to move onto my next goal of attending college where I plan to major in business or computers.
I know I’m not finished. I still need my green card, and after I get that I hope I have the opportunity to work for my citizenship. As a boy in elementary school I dreamed of becoming a lawyer or a businessman, yet a piece of paper allowed me to lose sight of that dream for a while. Today I am hopeful and again a DREAMer. While I no longer think about the “American Dream” in terms of moving myself ahead, I consider myself an American DREAMer, and my dreams are invested in the hundreds of thousands of others like me—DREAMers who grew up here, who have laughed and cried alongside their classmates and neighbors, who maybe experienced a moment like me when they were suddenly no longer considered “American” and began living in the shadows. My dream is that our collective work will help all of the other DREAMers fully participate in school, in college, in the workforce, and in U.S. society.
Despite my situation, I have always felt like a citizen of this country. While for some being an American is determined by a piece of paper or a social security number. To me, this is my country, the only country I know. I am an American.
**The opinions of our guest bloggers don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Equity Alliance, but they do raise important questions about educational equity. We invite participation and the exchange of ideas with these blogs.