An Undocumented American Speaks from the Heart
January 30th, 2017
This is the longest blog that has been on this site, but I wanted you to get the whole picture at once. Written by an undocumented American, it tells the human part of the story. Please comment at the end after you have read it. Prepare to be touched.
Struggling to Fit In
As an undocumented American and as a new American I have always struggled to fit in. I never felt quite welcomed when I was young. It was not that people made me feel unwelcome. It was the knowledge that somehow I was different. That somehow I had done something wrong by coming to this country without papers that made me feel uncomfortable. I think that maybe this is why I tried so hard to excel at school. School is where I felt I could forget about how my life, and how people like me were made into a political football to be tossed around every four years during the presidential race to the White House. At school all that mattered was hard work and dedication. Whenever I got high marks at school or won a trophy it was not the undocumented kid that won the trophy. It was just me that won the trophy. I felt that somehow working hard would earn me the right to be in this country.
Missing out on life
Perhaps this was also the problem. I tried so hard during high school to be the valedictorian that I isolated myself. I was not really friends with anyone. People were friendly, but I was always busy studying, interning, doing sports, that I always seemed to miss life. I never got to spend nights hanging out with friends, watching a movie, or hanging out at the park. All the things that are supposed to make high school memorable I seemed to miss.
I believed that if I tried really hard my undocumented status would not matter and I would be accepted into the best universities in the United States. Then maybe if I was lucky I would one day be an astronaut, my lifelong dream. So that is what I did. I isolated myself and worked really hard so I could get into the best colleges. Although I got the grades I could not get the money to enter into these schools. My undocumented status meant there were very few scholarships available. So after I got the grades, the letters of recommendation, sports awards, and the endless hours of community service, I still did not have the money to apply to the best schools much less go to them. Back then being an undocumented student meant almost no chance of getting into any public University or getting the money to pay for it. There were very few resources online and I knew almost no one who was undocumented and going to school. To this day I do not know that many people personally that are undocumented and go to school. For some reason I still feel somewhat ashamed of being undocumented.
I managed to get accepted into the University of Michigan-Dearborn. They have a good engineering program and I was really happy about this. Most importantly my parents and I could afford to pay the tuition. However, I was still disappointed that I could not do better in terms of what school I got into. I sacrificed so much and I thought I deserved better. I thought that if I had legal papers and I was a citizen I could do so much more and I would be able to make all of my dreams come true. I hoped that the United State congress would pass a law that would give me a path to citizenship while I was in my undergraduate program. This did not happen either. When I was done with school I was working as a dishwasher at a bar and had no way of making use of my degree in Mechanical Engineering.
If It Were Up to Me, I’d be a US citizen NOW
After my undergraduate career I somehow managed to get a job as an engineer at an automotive supplier. I made use of the money to pay for my Master’s degree and then by some miracle President Obama introduce Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. With DACA I was able to get a social security number and start living a more normal life. I continued my degree and finally graduated this year with an M.S.E in Aerospace Engineering. Unfortunately, along the way I learned that DACA is not enough to work at NASA or be an Astronaut. I have to be a United States citizen. If it were up to me I would be a citizen now. But I am not allowed. Furthermore, I cannot apply to many of the Aerospace companies such as Boeing or SpaceX because according to them I am not eligible due to my status not being covered under ITAR 22 C.F.R. § 120.15. If I could not work for NASA I hoped I would at least be able to work for one of their suppliers, and thus help advance the United States Aerospace industry. But I cannot. Instead I am constantly discriminated at career fairs, at my University, and by my classmates because of my status. This discrimination of being made to feel like you do not belong is a different kind of discrimination; its subtle yet painful. It slowly and softly kills the soul.
Being an American is about not giving up
So it continues this lifelong journey of being part of this country but yet unable to contribute to it to my fullest potential. So frustrating and painful this life is--somehow belonging to this great country, but at the same time not. I have learned a lot; about being tolerant of other people, working hard for your dreams, and above all that this life is not about how hard you can hit back, it is about how hard you can get hit and yet keep on moving. How many times you can stand up after falling down. Being an American to me is about not giving up.