I was 6 years old when my parents, facing financial difficulties, left me in China with my grandparents as they headed for America to make a better living and pay off their debts. Most nights, I asked my grandma the same question: “When will Mom and Dad come back?”. Every time, the response was silence. I always felt as if a large part of me was in America, with my parents. Overseas, both of my parents worked 12 hours a day, seven days of the week. My dad took the day shift as a truck driver while my mom took the night shift as a salesperson. A hefty amount of their monthly salary went into paying off debts; still, they managed to support me and my grandparents in China. All of their hard work was meant for me, so that I could grow up in a new environment with better opportunities. I was 11 when my parents finally had me join them in the U.S.
In middle school, I struggled with my English and was constantly made fun of. Through those tough years, I befriended the Webster Dictionary and cartoon characters. Eventually, I decided that my dream was to work in the health field, so I wanted to dedicate my time and energy at my community hospital. It was then that I discovered my undocumented status: I was denied a volunteer position when I could not provide a social security number on the application form. In despair and afraid, I was convinced that the hospital would send someone after me.
Senior year of high school came, along with college applications and the painful discovery that as an undocumented immigrant, I would be charged out-of-state tuition for all of the New York colleges I had applied to, despite the fact that I had lived here for nearly seven years. I felt hopeless and heartbroken. Fortunately, with the support of my family as well as my strong determination, I was able to overcome these initial obstacles. Now, life is headed towards the right direction, even though my choices are of course still limited. Still, I am so fortunate to currently be an applicant for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
I am fortunate, too, to have discovered a group formed by other undocumented Asian American youth. Known as RAISE, this group serves as a safe place for undocumented youth, and to provide support and solutions regarding their status. I am raising my story for three reasons: first, I want to help show the country that undocumented youth, millions strong, have distinctly unique stories behind what can sometimes be a simplistic label. Second, I want to be a role model for my fellow undocumented youth who are in the shadows, to help lift them from the same despair that I once was in. Finally, I want to include my voice so that we can help to bring much-needed comprehensive immigration reform, so that families like mine can stay united in pursuit of their dreams and happiness.
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Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story