In the wake on Obama's "deferred action" policy, author and undocumented immigrant Juan Reyes recalls the challenges and struggles that comes with growing up as an American with no status. Illustration by Adrian Avila.
When I was a small boy my world was perfect. I had no problems, no worries, nothing. I knew that there were different types of people -- Asian, Black, Middle Eastern, and Latinos. But somehow I felt that we were all the same. We were people. I grew up on Crusero Drive in the eastside of San Jose, in the Tamilee neighborhood. At one point, it was known as the worst neighborhood in San Jose because of gang activity. I remember knowing a lot of good people around the area because they were my parents’ friends. And I also remember listening to conversations. One topic that was very popular was the immigration status of theother person and the same word kept coming up, “undocumented.”
Ever since I can remember I have always known I was undocumented. But I never really knew what it meant. I spoke English just like all of my friends. We all watched the same TV shows and we all loved our American superheroes -- Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and even Freakaziod. We were American. As I became a teen and went into high school is when the situation I was in started becoming real. It was no longer a distant conversation topic. And my status was something that I was for a while ashamed to be and developed a fear of. It was a secret I would never want anyone to know. Not because I feared deportation but because of possible discrimination from my peers. I would always lie and tell everyone I was born in San Jose.
When I found out that I had Drivers Ed class all of my peers were excited. “OMG I can’t believe I’m going to drive soon!” they would say. “Why am I even in this class?” would be my response, because I could not get a California’s drivers license. I went the first 15 days to that class. I cut the rest of the year.
When my boy’s started working at the Giants stadium my junior year I felt left out. They were all able to get work permits, Not me. To have all your friends working at the same place at the same time gave me a lonely feeling. I would ask the same question people all over the world ask when something terrible happens to them. Why me? They worked at the Giant stadium in San Jose, so naturally I got in free. They also worked in the outside grill area so I got free food as well. I would sit on the bleachers and see the game by myself, but where I really wanted to be was next to my friends working -- Grilling burgers and hot dogs in the blistering heat. “Apply bro. We can chill together and make money at the same time,” they would tell me. “Hell naw bro, your trippin’, working is for chumps,” I would say. But deep inside I was hurt. I would give anything to work. The sad thing was that this whole time I didn’t think about my future. What was there to think about? I didn’t look forward to a good job. I didn’t look to further my education. I don’t have a Social Security Number so I’m stuck. I have no future. I could only look forward to dead end minimum wage jobs.
Then the day came. High school graduation. For other people it was a new beginning. Time to start their lives. As for me it was time to work. I already knew where I was going. I was going to a $7 an hour dead end production line job putting CD’s into cases for 8 -12 hours a day and I was never sure if I would work the following day since I was a temp worker. My mother worked there so I got grandfathered in. I worked there for about a year. I worked mostly with middle-aged undocumented women. I hated being there. I didn’t think that I was better then these women or that I was above this work. It’s just that I was always told in school that I could be whatever I wanted and this is not what I wanted to be, and I felt I did not have a choice.
After making $235 a week I started getting depressed. It was then when I decided to go to college. Even if I didn’t get to work in the field I studied I would still be learning. When I went to Mission College to enroll I was told I was an international student and that I would need to pay $110 per unit! There was no way I would ever be able to attended school. I went home very upset, very unsure of everything. I did not know what my next step would be. Luckily for me there is this beautiful Bill called AB 540 which the wonderful (not really) admissions lady forgot to tell me about (I’m sure). This bill allows me to pay the same amount a California resident would pay which was $16 per unit. I went on to complete my 2 years of community college. I loved school.
During my time there I made the dean’s list. My grades we’re so good that Santa Clara University offered me a scholarship. Soon after I left the production job. My friend had gotten me a job at a tire shop. I loved it there. I was working with guys my own age that understood everything that I was talking about. I was very happy. Three months after I got the job I was called into the office. My manager told me that I could no longer work there because there was a problem with my social security number. Of courset I thought, this was just to good to be true. I was crushed. I went back to the production line job. I didn’t know if I would ever find another job. But being a little bit smarter this time around I had to try. I still had the feelings of helplessness. I guess its weird for someone to say I am used to disappointment in my life. But for me, and many undocumented kids that were brought here by our parents, this feeling is constant. It’s part of our everyday lives. I had applied to many places and I had actually gotten the job, but when the time came to verify the social security number, well you know what happened.
One day I decided to call the temp agency that I worked for and asked them if they had any other job opening besides the production line. I told them I had gone to college and that I also spoke Spanish. I soon after got a new job working with them in the office. It was great, I gained a lot of valuable experience in all aspects of HR. But I always had that constant fear that they would check my legal status. Every time the topic would come up I changed the subject. Lucky for me they never did. I went on to obtain great jobs. I became a manager in a manufacturing company. I also became a general manager of a restaurant. But in all these job I was brought in by someone. Of course I worked very hard and I went on to obtain these position. But in the end I lost the jobs for the same reason. Its really hard to lose something you worked so hard to get.
But in the end us Dream Act kids have no choice but to move forward into a very foggy, uncertain future. That’s all we can do really because we were raised in this country and even though we face many obstacles we still believe in the American dream. We were raised with the American dream, and as Americans we were taught to believe anything is possible. Even if this dream of becoming a legal citizen in OUR country is just a dream, we have no choice but to keep on believing.
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