I have decided that a tiny little piece of paper and a 9-digit number are not going to decide what I am or what I am not. I don't define myself by my undocumented status. Yes, I am undocumented, but I am an American first.
I am an American because of the pride I feel when I hear The Star-Spangled Banner and the pride I felt when I saw our first black President take the oath of office; only 45 years after Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I am an American because I love this country and what it stands for. I am an American because this is my home.
I was born in Lima, Peru and lived there for the first 12 years of my young life. My parents had lost their business and only source of income due to the economic situation of the country. As my parents struggled to find jobs to keep our family afloat, they were left with no choice but to keep me out of school for a year as they could not afford it. This is not what parents want for their kids, and this is not what my parents wanted for me. This is why they finally decided to seek a better future in "the land of opportunity;" to provide my siblings and I with the tools necessary to build a good life.
October 2000 marks the day I stepped foot on U.S. soil for the first time. My parents had told me and my siblings that we were going to Disney World for vacation. Part of me knew better, but I wasn't going to argue with them...I was going to go see Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse! Little did I know that would never happen. I haven't been to Disney World to this day. Despite the disappointment, I was thrilled to be in America, a place I had only seen in movies and television shows. It was more beautiful than I had thought.
My first year in the U.S. was difficult as I began to adjust to a different culture and a new life. My parents enrolled me in 9th grade a month or two into the school year. Not only was it nerve-racking because I was the new foreign kid, but also because I hadn't been to school in more than a year. The first class I took was ESL, but it became boring after a few months as I began learning the language and carrying conversations without difficulty. The rest of my classes were regular classes, which were both exciting and challenging. I remember my first time reading Romeo and Juliet and learning about the Civil War. While I wasn't aware of my undocumented status yet, I knew my parents had abandoned their life in Peru to provide me with a better education and future, and I wasn't going to disappoint them. I finished my freshman year with top grades.
Sophomore year flew by and without thinking I began to identify myself as an American more and more. I had become fully assimilated to the American culture and I loved learning about the history of this country, starting with the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, to the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for equality. Then junior year began and my hopes and dreams came crashing down. It was the time to start applying for college and I had my mind on a few already. I took as many college applications from the guidance office as I could and was ready to fill them out. It was then when I realized I couldn't go to school because I didn't have the magic 9-digit number. Disappointment does not even begin to describe the way I felt when I found out I couldn't continue my education. My parents wanted a better future for me and I was going to let them down. It was heart breaking watching my friends get accepted to the schools of their choice while I was stuck in neutral. I tried not to let this get me down and I was able to graduate high school with top grades, despite an uncertain future.
A year went by and I was getting more and more frustrated about my situation. I wanted to go to school; I wanted to be a normal 19 year old. My frustration led to determination to find a college that would let me study. I researched and called several schools until I was accepted as an international student at the community college in my area. I knew paying international rates for classes would be a challenge, but the truth is I didn't care. I was finally able to attend school and I wasn't going to let money stop me. Thankfully, I was able to save up enough money during my year off to take two classes. I am still attending community college taking two to three classes per semester, and paying for them is still difficult without any financial help but I am not giving up. I currently hold a 4.0 GPA and I am three classes away from finishing my two years of college. My plan is to transfer to Penn State University to finish my four years as a political science major. My dream is to one day work for an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union and fight to defend the rights and freedoms of those who need it, to always be politically active, and to help make the average citizen feel like they can truly make a difference.
Just like me, there are thousands of students facing the same obstacles. We consider ourselves American, but are denied the opportunity to attend college and work legally. We don't want or expect "freebies." What we want is a chance to prove what an asset we can be to this country we call our home. We want to be the future nurses, doctors, teachers, and engineers that will shape this country's future and continue to make it great.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act is a bipartisan piece of legislation that would give students in the same situation conditional legal status if they meet certain requirements. This bill would give us a chance to attend college or enlist in the military for at least two years and help us toward a path to citizenship to finally have that piece of paper that is so needed in this country.
Despite all of these obstacles, I am thankful to be living in this country and my patriotism has not wavered. We, DREAMies, are not asking much; just the opportunity to give back a little of what this country has given us. We won't give up hope and will continue to work hard to finally make our dreams a reality.
If you want to learn more about the DREAM Act and ways you can help, please visit www.dreamACTivist.org