Why I Stopped Dreaming
December 17, 2014 | Alejandro Beltran, D&P Creative Strategies
I was twelve years old when I first learned that I was not an American citizen. My parents had taken me to a marcha for immigration reform and as we walked by anti-immigration protesters I vividly remember an old man with a white beard and menacing eyes staring directly into mine and screaming,
“Go back to your country!”
I didn’t really understand what he meant. I knew my parents and I were from Mexico but I had never considered it my country. My only memory of Mexico consisted of a car ride through the desert that ended at a tall fence. My mom and I stepped out of the car and two men helped my mom reach the top of the fence. Then one of them carried me to the top of the fence, my mom grabbed me in her arms and we slowly climbed down. I was three years old.
Nine years and many protests and rallies later, I clearly began to understand the status of my situation. Even though my parents worked hard, owned a home and even had credit card debt, I was labeled an illegal immigrant, a lawbreaker and a criminal. Even though our family celebrated Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, and also mourned on 9/11, we were still seen as outsiders and people who did not belong. I constantly saw passionate and ‘traditional’ Americans on the news talking about how to get rid of us. Every time these citizens demanded that immigrants “do things the right way,” the cry of “go back to your country” rang in my head.
By high school the reality of my situation truly hit me. I loved school, was passionate about education and aspired to go to college. After some research and consultation from my career counselors, I realized going to college in the U.S. was not going to be a possibility for me. I had officially become a “dreamer,” the term given to undocumented immigrant students limited by the circumstances of their legal situation and relegated to merely dreaming of attending college.
Although I applied to various schools and compiled a collection of acceptance letters, the problem arouse when trying to figure out how to pay for school. As I was coming to terms with the fact that my parents could not afford to help put me through college, I saw less-motivated students receive scholarships, grants and loans for school; all things that I did not have access to because I was a dreamer.
In the summer of 2010, I decided to stop dreaming. I decided to stop waiting around for elected officials to decide my fate and future. So I took the suggestion that the old man with a white beard and menacing eyes had given me and I went back to my country.
Returning to Mexico was difficult. I spoke Spanish but nothing like what the locals spoke. Matriculating though school was even harder since I had absolutely no academic background in the language. Reading would take hours as I stopped often to look up unfamiliar terms.
Yet that hardest part of this experience was living away from my family. Unlike most American college students, I could not travel home for the holidays. Three years would pass before I could hug my parents again.
As I tried to adjust, I distracted myself with my studies and soon the opportunity that was not available to me in the U.S. became a possibility from within Mexico. Through a university study-abroad program sponsored by the Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa, I was able to spend an academic year studying at the University of New Mexico and also secured an internship with the State Senate Majority Whip.
After that memorable year I had to return to Mexico, I was even more driven to find another opportunity to return to the United States. And fortunately, through a program supported by the Mexican government, I was presented with an opportunity to spend a semester in Washington D.C. while interning for D&P Creative Strategies.
The experience has been extraordinary. It has helped me mature beyond my insecurities as an ‘illegal alien’ to feeling confident of being a young man capable of working with elected officials and the smart people that support them. Nevertheless — even though I went back to my country and did things the right way — I find myself in a peculiar situation. After living and studying in the U.S. since pre-school, graduating valedictorian from high school, and my time in New Mexico and now D.C., I once again have to return to Mexico at the conclusion of my visa. Although I have taken the legal and long road, I am once again being asked to return to a country that is still not home to me.
I am now in limbo. I have the skills, experience and network to pursue my career and aspirations, but no country to do it in. The chances of staying in the U.S. are slim. Our broken immigration system makes it improbable that I will be allowed to stay in the country I was raised in and consider home.
My decision to leave and do things the right way means I do not qualify for the President’s Executive Action. And I doubt the new Congress will take any action that provides a genuine solution to the problem confronting our nation.
I left four years ago so that I would not have to wait for someone else to decide my fate. Now that I’ve made it to the Capitol I am still dependent on many of the same people who haven’t done much since my time away. How many more years must I wait from away before they decide my identity?