My aunt is like my second mother. My cousin Diana and I are best friends just like our mothers. When we were younger, our worlds were nothing more than going back and forth to each other’s houses and being present at each and every single birthday.
Little did we know that while my aunt drove us to McDonald’s on Saturdays for breakfast every weekend, she was a nervous wreck, paranoid that at any moment a police officer would stop her and take the car away; taking everything she had, deporting her back to Mexico and leaving her with nothing but a broken heart and an abandoned daughter. She hid these feelings well from us every time she got behind the wheel, and luckily for us, this never happened.
The only difference between my mother, Maria Amaral, and my aunt, Lucia Parra, is that my mother is a legal US resident and my aunt is not. This meant that when my grandmother in Mexico got sick and needed surgery, my mother was in the waiting room while my aunt sat anxiously in California by her phone.
At 17 years old, my aunt walked through the desert all night to cross the border, only to get to a place where the person who was supposed to meet her didn’t. With hopes of reuniting with my mother, my aunt followed a man who offered to take her to Los Angeles. Little did she know she would end up on a highway being followed by police cars and helicopters as the man sped through the highway taking her hostage. As the gunshots exploded around her, all she could think of was the hope for her future and her love for her mother.
For 20 years my aunt repressed the memory of her awful entry into the US, but it was only one among the many times she made the treacherous border crossing from Mexico. My aunt came to the US to help my grandmother with money. My mother and my aunt would send money home in order to keep my grandmother well, with food on her table and the necessary medication at her disposal.
“Something that shatters me is the inability to leave the country,” Lucia said. “It’s a heart-wrenching decision to choose between going to see my family or leaving my kids behind. If I decided to go to Mexico, I would miss out on seeing my kids grow up. With a pained heart and deep sorrow, I miss the funerals, the doctor appointments, and the recovery periods of my family in order to watch my daughter sing at her first winter concert, to celebrate my son’s first birthday, and to be here when my daughter crosses the stage at her graduation.”
My aunt is a hardworking woman, with hopes, dreams, aspirations, and goals like every person, citizen or not. The way the US government calls immigrants aliens is insulting. Are they aliens? Are they not humans, with feelings, families, painful pasts, and hopeful futures? Since when have we decided that because we aren’t born in the same country that we’re aliens? Are we not all born here on this planet? We’re all a part of humanity.
In California, undocumented immigrants will now be able to get driver’s licenses. A license is not a permanent residency or citizenship, but it is the opportunity to drive without fear and to have an identity.
“It’s all very exciting! I already made an appointment and have even began studying,” said Lucia. “I can’t get over the excitement of finally having something legal, something to my name. I’m not scared at all of ‘coming out the shadows.’ I’m hopeful, I’m thankful, and I’m wishful. It’s one step towards being able to see my parents’ faces in person some day. I feel like I’m closer to one day being able to return home to my mother after over 20 years of only hearing her voice over a telephone.”
Many undocumented immigrants face the hardship of being in a new country, not speaking English, and trying to find work in a world without their immediate families. Somehow, each one finds a reason to stay and the motivation to continue to be part of a country that sometimes humiliates them, tracks them down like dogs, and often makes them the butt of jokes.
“I came to this country because of Maria,” Lucia said. “She calculated that a whole day’s pay from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Mexico was less than $4. She knew that I could make more than $4 a day working here in the U.S. at any job. She encouraged me to come and I was eager to. I owe everything I have to Maria, she helped me get here and supported me every step of the way. She lived my life as much as I did and experienced everything with me. I thank God every day for helping me stay safe, for my family, for my a job, and I thank him for Maria. She is my best friend, my sister, and my mentor. To her I owe my happiness, my family, and my experiences.”
Many immigrants are accused of taking American jobs away from Americans, but the truth of the reality is they’re taking the jobs that no one else seems to want. Lucia has worked as a waitress at the same restaurant for 15 years.
“I am very thankful to this country. The only thing us immigrants can offer is our hard work and willingness to take any job at minimum wage and even less than minimum wage,” she said. “We are part of the economy and raise children with the ambition to better themselves and pursue an education. We can never offer back the country what it offers us but we work hard keeping in mind that every day we spend in this country is a blessing.”
According to President Obama’s executive order, undocumented immigrants will now be able to solicit working permits and defer the fear of being deported from the country if they meet certain requirements, such as having a child born in the US, passing a background check, and being able to prove they have been living here for five years. These are only a few of the requirements and the process will not be easy. Registering names and giving fingerprints are all a part of the process, but most undocumented immigrants see this as beneficial to their futures and worth the risk of stepping forward.
This decision is only in effect while Obama is president and can be removed by the next president, but people like my aunt do not lose hope. The president is giving people the very hope he campaigned on.
I support his decision, not because it affects my aunt, but because it affects so many other people like her.
“I have lived in this country obeying the rules, paying my taxes, committing no crime or offense against anyone in hopes that one day the government will see that I am here and that I have been good,” Lucia said. “I’ve been patiently waiting for an opportunity to be a part of this great country legally where the only shadow I know is the one that is casted as I walk freely, openly in the bright sun. A shadow is no longer the place I hide in hopes of working quietly to have a future for myself and my for family.”