Don’t Read the Comments
I’ll be the first to admit that I, too, have fallen for that trap of responding to online trolls on social networks, specifically the comments sections of several media outlets that I follow. I’m not proud of the things I’ve responded to out of anger. Of reading personal attacks and to others I care about.
I won’t engage detractors that wish to fight our conversations with semantic details about breaking the rule of law. It’s why inclusive reform is necessary. History has many times proven that because it’s the law, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. And their hateful comments ignore basic principles of human decency, respect, and empathy for their fellow neighbor.
So no, fear-mongering, shrill insults, and personal attacks won’t stop this momentum I want to contribute to.
It’s why I decided to start this project with a focus on bringing positive & constructive storytelling that peacefully counters the negativity that certain groups are trying to normalize.
Specifically, I want to bring my own personal experience as a formerly undocumented immigrant and the struggles my family & friends have endured as we strive to reach a phrase I didn’t even understand as a child when I couldn’t even speak English: the American Dream.
In addition, I open the conversation to express progressive dialogue that includes the struggles as refugees, other peoples of color, lgbtq+, differently abled, women, education and healthcare reform.
With that, I want to talk to you about something I never openly discussed until the mid 2000s, even though I’ve lived in the United States since the 90s. I was brought to the United States as a child, undocumented.
I was born on September 15, 1987, on the outskirts of Mexico City, on the eve of Mexico’s Independence Day. How much more Mexican can you get?
I’m not sure I would call myself a good patriot of either country. For a long time I’ve heard a recurring criticism from both sides of the border:
You left a country where half are angry with you and consider you a traitor to arrive to another where the other half doesn’t want you to be there to begin with.
What am I supposed to do?
In the summer of 1992, I have a vague recollection of events, but remember that my parents introduced a man I’ve never seen before, as my uncle. They said that we were going to take a trip and he was going to take my brother and I. My brother barely a year old while I was about to turn five that fall.
Aside from never having seen this man before, what tripped me the most was that they told me I had a different name. I can’t remember what it was and neither can my parents, but supposedly I was given a different name “in case anybody asked.” I protested, “no ma, that’s not true. My name is Saïd.” “Yes, I know, but you have to say it is just this once,” she replied. “But ma, you said we shouldn’t lie. That it’s bad to lie.” This went on for a bit, but I guess I went with it at the end.
The next part I remember is being in a van with a young girl, about 17 years old, carrying my little brother and some other strangers I had never seen before. I’m not sure how long the car ride took, but we drove from the center part of Mexico all the way to the southern Texan border.
Sharks & Crocodiles
One morning we come to a stop and the adults get out without saying much. I follow behind the girl. As we leave the van and some items are taken out, the driver gets back inside, turns around, and rolls away.
We’re out in the desert and the only thing I see in front of us is a wide murky river. On the other side, there is tall grass, and after that, a tall fence where I can hear people behind it, laughing and playing soccer.
The men, still without saying much, begin to strip their clothes down to their underwear. Then one of the guys pulls out this huge rimless tire and rolls it towards the edge of the river. It’s one of those heavy construction tires. Maybe it wasn’t a tire, and an actual emergency flotation device. It was still grimy.
Of course I’m nervous. The only person I know is my little brother, and that fat head is asleep in the girl’s arms. My “uncle” signals me to walk towards him. He then says “ok, mijo. We’re going to cross to the other side.”
I can’t swim. I’m scared. That river is nasty. I see big dark shapes swim by. I start to cry.
“No! There are sharks in that water!”
“There are no sharks in that water,” he calmly replies.
“Fine! Then there are crocodiles in that water!”
“There are no crocodiles in that water.”
He leans down to be at eye level with me:
Uncle Coyote: “you see those guys playing soccer over there?”Me: “yeah.”
Uncle Coyote: “well, don’t you want to play too?”
Uncle Coyote: “well mijo, I need you to sit on the tire next to your little brother with that girl while we push you across. I won’t let you fall and nothing will get you.”
I didn’t get undressed because I remember wearing heavy jeans with knee patches of the Mario Bros.
July 4th, 1992
We make it across, the men go to one side of the tall grass to change into dry clothes and the girl goes to the other side. I remember wanting to walk towards the fence to ask the guys if I could play.
I get yanked back down by a heavy hand and told to be quiet. We passed under the fence and away from the players. We crossed the border on July 4th, 1992 through McAlllen Texas from Reinosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
My memory slips back into a haze, but my parents tell me that the coyote told them they had to get me drunk so I’d pass out because I was talking too much and we were still close to the border. They then stopped by a gas station and someone bought me a huge back of caramels that I didn’t want to share.
I was a brat.
It’s now getting later into the night and there are fewer people riding with us the farther we drive. Finally, my little brother, some man, and I get switched to a smaller car and we’re taken to some apartment complex.
One of the guys is visibly excited and reassuring us that we’re going to see our family soon.
We go up to the second floor of one of the complexes and the guy knocks on one of the doors.
Suddenly, the door opens and a tall skinny man with a bushy mustache greets us. He sees me, screams “¡Saïd, mijo!” and picks me. I’m freaking out on the inside, but can’t move. Shit’s scary, son. But as he lifts me, I’m able to see into the living room that there is another kid about my age jumping from couch to couch. It was my cousin Tony.
Again, my memory blanks out and can only remember bits of the next morning. Tony’s sister, Sandra, runs to the room where we slept and jumps on the bed. “Saïd, your mom and dad are here!”
I’m waking up, disoriented, but I can hear my mom laughing across the apartment and my dad talking to someone else. My godparents and parents are having breakfast in the dining room, having just arrived as well.
Of course, there may be a few details where I have a false memory that has tweaked how specific details actually happened; I was five. But it is the general story of how I was brought to United States undocumented.
In 2006, I graduated high school with honors and was accepted to the Corcoran College of Art + Design, class of 2010, with a full tuition scholarship, in Washington DC.
Aside from my personal & professional efforts to improve the quality of my life, many people have helped me along the way. There is no way I could’ve done it alone.
It’s what has helped my big-headed brother the opportunity to have serve in the US Marines and raise his own family. It’s what has helped my youngest brother, born in Houston, to continue to serve in the US Air Force and raise his own family. It’s what has helped my youngest sister start her academic career at Penn State University.
From the first decision my parents made to bring us here, to me, now wanting to embark on this entrepreneurial experiment to help others as I’ve been helped, this is what we’re doing. This is what we should be doing. It’s really that simple, we all want a fair shot at our own American Dream.
Thank you for reading my story.