Twenty Years in America, And Still Trying to Become an American
Commentary, Adrian Avila
Mar 23, 2010
Today marks an enormous milestone in my life. I celebrate 20 years surviving as an American. A couple decades ago my mother and I set off on a life-changing journey that still continues to this day. With my mother being 29-years-old, and me being just five, we left our lives in Mexico City, Mexico and set off in search of a better life in the United States. I didn’t know when this all started that a “better life” meant one in the shadows and with continuous fight to be a part of a country that doesn’t want us.
My mother knew that if we could escape the hardships that we faced in Mexico, I would have a greater opportunity to achieve my greatest potential. Leaving our family, friends and everything we own behind, we boarded a plane for the first time in our lives and set off for Tijuana, the last of Mexico that I would ever see. Our first attempt to cross the U.S. Mexican border was denied by a dozen border patrol agents in trucks and helicopters minutes after entering the U.S., which in my eyes seamed like a clip from a war game. When we were sent back to Tijuana my mother knew that there was no turning back, it was now or never. So after a grueling 11 hours of running, hiding, ducking and a near death experience we had reached the Promised Land, a land filled with opportunity, diversity, wealth and discrimination. It’s gateway was known as Los Angeles.
|(The author's first apartment in America.)|
It is this great effort what makes me an American. While many people are born into America, my mother and I had to fight our way in. What is more American that entering a foreign land and claiming it as your own? As I grew up I started to see signs of my “undocumentedness”, such as always having to take the bus when all my classmates parents would all drive cars. I thought it was because we were poor and couldn’t afford a car. Which was true, but why were we poor? Even if I could afford a car, I couldn’t even drive to school without risking deportation.
I can recall the first time I lost a friend over my immigration status. I was nine-years-old and my friend’s parents had just found out about my status and told my friend that people like me were not good people, that we were in this country to steal, abuse and that no good would come from us being friends. It took a good month for us to stop being friends because he knew that what his parents thought of me was wrong, yet like many things as an immigrant I had no say in the matter. Can’t get a drivers license, can’t legally work, can’t vote..can’t..can’t..can’t.
The reality was that the America we were afforded only offered a 12-hours-a-day job a produce packaging company for my mother, who also suffered the stress of a constant threat of losing her job due to the lack of proof of eligibility to work within the U.S. Even as an adult, I learned it is hard to get out of an economic situation when you have no economic opportunity. Always working only to survive, never working to strive, is a reality that many undocumented immigrant living in the U.S. face. Even with a new job that my mother has been at for 16 years, she still is not seen as a real employee.
Our domestic life has been one of struggle, living in converted garages, basements and shared rooms never really having a home to call your own. Something that makes no sense to me, even twenty years later, was the limitations of our lifestyle. If you work hard and live an honest life shouldn’t one be rewarded with more than a two-bedroom apartment with six people living in it?
Never-the-less my mother always kept her head held high and carried herself with dignity and respect. “No matter what people think we are Adrián, remember that we are good people trying to do good in this country,” she would tell me after days when both her and I would come into discrimination, or limitations due to our status, yet couldn’t really talk about it. In a way, we felt like if we didn’t talk about it, then it wasn’t really happening.
The one thing I did have a say in was the kind of person I was going to be. I knew that I wanted to be a part of this country no matter what, Mexico might be my home country but America is my home. For the past eight years, I have been building and running a community organization called Silicon Valley De-Bug, serving my larger community, rather then detracting, as the stereotype goes. Through the organization I have found my way as a video producer, reporter and artist.
This is why I am an American; I have worked hard to do the best I can to get ahead in this world, to help out my community, my family and this country. I pay all my taxes that help keep this country moving. I have been able to complete high school, the first in my small family. I stayed free of any trouble that would land me in a different kind of cage, prison or jail. I have done my best to achieve a higher level of education, yet hit a wall with financial aid due to restrictions because of my immigration status. But my ceilings is not the end of the world though, being undocumented has prepared me for “No’s” and in turn allows me to find ways to be innovative in my problem-solving.
Life lessons that have paved the way for me to start my own small printing business, be able to travel all over the country (one of the few rights we have as undocumented immigrants) giving talks and presentations on how there are many faces to the undocumented immigrant and how we greatly contribute to this society. Presentations that have landed me on a stage in front of 1,000 plus collage students in Washington DC as a keynote speaker along side Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Her past 20 years in America I bet looked a lot different then mine.
I am now happily married to a U.S. citizen and look forward to started my own family here in the U.S. making sure to let my children know that being in this great country and a privilege. Twenty years have past since we first entered this country with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and here we still stand as undocumented as the day we first stepped foot in this country. We might not be American citizens, but no one can tell us that we are not Americans.