1. My parents never hid from me the fact that I was undocumented. I grew up knowing I was missing a number and some papers, but the reality of being undocumented—of how much you are silenced, limited, and turned away—didn’t come until much later.

    My family arrived in New York from Hong Kong in 1995 for better education prospects and other political reasons. I was just three and a half years old, so with the exception of our small apartment and the playground, I don’t remember much about Hong Kong. My parents had actually made an earlier trip in 1988 to visit my grandmother, who had immigrated to New York by herself and started working in Brooklyn’s garment factories. My brother was born a year after their visit, and is still the only member of the family who is a U.S. citizen. We are therefore a mixed status family, in which everyone’s immigration status differs.

    But my story after our arrival in the States doesn’t actually stray too far from everyone else’s. I went to elementary, middle, and high school in Brooklyn. I was the seventh grader who nearly beat all the eighth graders in the school spelling bee, the freshman everyone copied homework from. I participated in clubs, and volunteered at community organizations. I was a classmate, a neighbor, a best friend.

    And yet as an immigrant, my experiences have also been undeniably different. My choices for college were severely limited because of financial reasons and my ineligibility for financial aid. I felt helpless watching my father struggle to support our family because I could not look for jobs. I could not drive, and I could not travel. I was repeatedly told by strangers and peers, both intentionally and unintentionally, that I did not belong in America.

    I was recently asked if I had hope for comprehensive immigration reform and for the future. My answer a long time ago would have simply been “yes,” but my answer today is a much more pragmatic one—why only hope when you can also organize? I choose to share my story and participate with RAISE because that will mean more people understanding our parents’ sacrifices and the injustices our communities face. It will mean people becoming more aware of what is happening at our borders, and it will hopefully mean that families won’t have to be torn apart anymore. It will mean being able to decide for ourselves and our families what we want, and it will mean the raising of all of our voices in shaping this nation.

    Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story


  2. Now I understand why people form a human chain around their senator’s office, stage sit-ins in midst of traffic, and care about issues that don’t seemingly directly affect them. Prior to joining the movement for immigrants’ rights, I had conditioned myself to deal with life’s challenges reservedly, cautiously, and in a calculative manner. I stayed away from getting emotionally attached to any issue, whether personal or political.

    I have been undocumented since 2002, the year I left South Korea with my family after the late 90s financial crisis. My parents began working in a dry cleaning store (a “seh-tak-so”), where my mom was denied pay for at least a month under the excuse of “learning how to do the job.” That year, a lawyer who promised green cards for all of us turned out to be a scam and we were left undocumented. Without a social security number, I was utterly clueless when filling out college applications and financial aid forms, and I began harboring anger towards my parents. At the same time, I found it curious that my mother, who is still a co-owner of a business that hires more than a dozen Americans, was undocumented. Considering all of these circumstances, I felt compelled to advocate for change, but I seriously doubted that I, one of eleven million undocumented, would bring much of an impact on the movement for immigration reform.

    I began believing in raising my story shortly after Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced last year. A fellow Korean American activist told me that DACA didn’t just happen – it was the result of DREAMers all across America tirelessly staging protests and writing petitions. I learned that battling the broken immigration system was much more complex and difficult than I had thought. The system, as I understand now, was partially born out of a long history of imperialism, oppression, and white supremacy that still pervades. For example, Chinese people were the first ethnic or racial group that the United States had explicitly denied entry into this country. When I went to the Asian Pacific Islander Grassroots for Social Justice conference in New Orleans last month, I became more and more aware of  how many current social issues are similarly influenced by this history.

    I can’t change what has happened, but I can recognize injustice and let others know about it and push for change, without thinking too selfishly about the “impact” or strategic value I can add to the movement. A fair and comprehensive immigration reform has not yet happened—and I continue to be critical of what politicians or even other immigration advocates define as “fair” or “comprehensive.” But I know that ultimately my greatest enemy is my own skepticism and indifference.

    Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story


  3. When I moved here from the Philippines at the age of 15, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. It was a fresh start for my family considering what we had been through during the Asian economic crisis back in the late 90s. My siblings managed to become citizens but I could not. Their stories have happy endings. Mine doesn’t…yet. 

    Not only am I undocumented, I am gay. People repeatedly told me I couldn’t marry the person I loved, and build a life with them in my own country. I’ve been told that I am someone who doesn’t belong, someone who must hide, and someone who remains unseen. I was “different” from my own family. I was isolated on every level. At first it seemed like the introduction of the new immigration bill was a ray of hope. But the bill puts me on a very long and uncertain 13-year path to citizenship. I’ve already spent nearly half my life waiting—and now pushing for a law that will humanely allow us to be citizens. But with this bill, I wonder how many of the millions of other undocumented immigrants and I will actually get to the end of that path.

    The bill also stops brothers or sisters who are citizens from sponsoring other siblings if they are married and over the age of 31. I’m 28 – not yet 31, but close. My family has already been scarred from being torn apart, and there is every reason to believe I might be torn apart from them again. I got tired of hearing I was a hopeless case. Last April, I went with RAISE to the national day of action for immigration reform in Washington DC. Hundreds of undocumented youth were there. As I looked out over the crowd of people, I realized that no matter how many times I am told I am a hopeless case, I am part of a bigger movement, one that extends beyond my own world.

    At this point, I have gone back to college. I hope to become a doctor, however long that hope has to be on hold. At the beginning of the summer, I announced on stage to hundreds during RAISE’s theater performance, #UndocuAsians, that I was undocumented. I had friends in the audience who I was coming out to for the first time. Finally, in June, the U.S Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and for the first time recognized gay marriage.

    I share my story now because I believe nothing—and no one—is a hopeless case. As much as I struggle to understand the proposed rules in Washington, and why they still fail to include so many people like my family and me, I also know that I will never give up. I won’t accept that now is not my time, too.

    Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story


  4. 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.

    Continue reading at Huffington Post »

    Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story


  5. Like your average 1.5-generation Korean American, I was raised in South Korea until I was nine, coming to the United States with my family. Like anyone who lived in Korea in the late nineties, we felt the effects of the East Asian Financial CrisisMy parents decided to move to America, forced to lie about how long we would be staying. Our visas were approved, and we left in January 1998 for Honolulu. It was a challenging time: my father was subject to wage theft, while my mother toiled as a waitress. Living in poverty, we bought used clothes and subsided on fast food. Eventually, we moved to New York City, then to suburban New Jersey. During all of this, my father left our family, leaving umma to be a single mother.

    I always knew that I was undocumented. The biggest heartbreak came not from the high school crushes and puppy love, but from my inability to go to college. Despite a strong academic record, my inability to receive financial aid wiped out my dreams. Yet, a last ray of hope came: a liberal arts college in Kentucky granted me a full tuition scholarship. That didn’t last: in 2008, the recession wiped out my school’s endowments, cutting off my stipend. Soon after, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. With all of the pressures, I began experiencing breakdowns and nightmares of ICE agents coming to my dorm room and deporting me. The paranoia was paralyzing. Once I came out as undocumented, I found the strength of community: there were undocumented youth who were active in Kentucky! I saw this issue as a form of systemic oppression against the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses. Coming out led me to realize the irony: that making myself vulnerable actually made me safer. Most importantly, I recognized the American Dream as an oppressive narrative that only causes so much pain. Pulling myself up by the bootstrap, my pathway to a future was closed by the broken immigration system. Pulling herself up by the bootstrap, my mother was diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer and an almost insurmountable medical bill. Because these are narratives that are being played over and over in our communities, it’s time for our community to break this bootstrap and stand up for justice. Anything less won’t do.

    Read more about Tony and his remarkable story over at The Atlantic.

    Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story


  6. "Life in New York is the only life I’ve ever known. I was just five years old when I came to the United States from the Philippines in 2000. I lived my early years thinking I was like my peers: an American. This country’s culture was my culture. I spoke English without a trace of a Filipino accent. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year of high school that I found out I was undocumented, and my life began to fall apart. School felt pointless and my grades plummeted. Perhaps I could graduate, but I doubted I would be able to go to college, have a career, or any real future. I began to think about suicide.

    I‘ve made strides in overcoming my depression through working as an activist and with the support of my friends, but I still worry that my dreams remain in jeopardy. I hope by sharing my story, I can inspire us not to make the struggle last so long for others as it has for me.”

    Keep reading my story at Huffington Post »

    Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story


  7. "During my sophomore year in high school, I realized that I was “undocumented.” I was used to supporting myself and my family, but suddenly there seemed so many things I could not do. I had been on the honor roll in high school and intermediate school, but when it was time to apply for college, it hit me that I couldn’t apply for financial aid because I didn’t have a social security number. I enrolled in community college and kept working to pay the bills, but my parents and younger sisters needed the money I was earning, too. After almost two years of college, I decided my family needed it more. I had to leave school, and I started working in restaurants.

    I share my story in hopes that in the future, myself and others in my position will not feel trapped by our circumstances, and the future will offer us many more possibilities and choices…”

    Keep reading my story on Huffington Post »

    Image credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story