Rosario Lopez migrated with her family from Mexico to North Carolina 13 years ago. In this latest installment of Drop the I-Word’s “I Am…” series, Lopez shares concerns about how her daughter and the children of other undocumented immigrants are affected by today’s hateful anti-immigrant climate. Across the country, children live in fear that their families will be torn apart by deportation. They also feel unsure about their place in the world as their parents and communities are devalued by criminalizing language every day.
The children of this country are our future and when they hear the i-word, they are receiving the message that they don’t belong, or that it’s acceptable to treat others like they don’t belong. Lopez closes her story with a message of hope fueled by struggle. “One time I heard a child say that he would become an immigration attorney because his dad was deported,” she writes below. “Our movement is only growing stronger.”
For the “I Am…” storytelling project, people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language about immigrants. Stories are gathered in collaboration with our campaign partners. We are grateful to the Alliance for a Just Society for connecting us with Lopez.
My name is Rosario Lopez. I am a mother and I am undocumented. When the word “illegal” is used to describe me, it disturbs me not only because of the stigma it creates now, but also because of the message that it sends to my daughter, who is an American citizen. I was born in Netzahualcoyotl, Mexico. My family and I moved from Mexico to Durham, N.C., in 1998, when I was 13 years old. My family left everything behind to come to this country because my father lost his job in Mexico. He looked for months for another job but he could not find anything. My parents wanted to be able to work to provide for their children.
At the age of 13, the journey to the U.S. was an adventure. It took us one week to get to North Carolina. We had to walk a lot and we spent two days without eating. During our journey I met people who had tried to come here for many weeks, spent more than two days without food, and whose struggle for having a stable life had been far more difficult than ours. That experience made me appreciate the fact that I had made it here alive.
As a child, it was hard for me to adjust to a new culture, new school and new home, especially because I did not speak the language. I was an easy target for bullies because I would have a harder time reporting to my teachers that I was being bullied. However, after a few years I was able to master the language and to succeed academically. My teachers were the most helpful to me when I moved to North Carolina. They had the biggest influence in my life and many of them also became my friends. They went the extra mile to help me in different ways: teaching me English, tutoring me after school, giving me advice, encouraging me to study and inspiring me to go to college.
It worries me that the growing oppression and injustices incited against the undocumented community are creating scars on our children. How can we cause so much damage and trauma to children who represent the future of this country and still expect to have a prosperous society? Children should not have to worry about their parents being gone the next day or about seeing officers take them away to jail because they were looking for a better future. Children should not have to wonder why their parents are being labeled “illegals,” especially when their parents are the most important people in their lives.
The word “illegal” should not be used to describe undocumented immigrants because it criminalizes those whose status has not been fixed because of our broken immigration system. When people use the world “illegal” to describe a human being that takes away our humanity. The stigma that comes with that label motivates hate, oppression, and mistrust towards us. We are the scapegoats to many of the problems the country is facing. Our communities are being attacked with unjust laws that allow racial profiling and make it harder for us to live a normal life. The laws make us live in fear of being deported and having our families destroyed.
Now they are attacking our children, our babies. Hate and greed motivate the attacks on birthright citizenship. These attacks to the immigrant community are ways to deceive the general American public, and make them believe that we, the immigrant community, are the reason why this country is facing economic problems. When the truth is the richer are getting richer, and they are benefiting from the oppression of others. Our children are vulnerable right now but soon they will grow up and be able to vote. They will take a stand on our side, to fight for basic human rights. One time I heard a child say that he would become an immigration attorney because his dad was deported. Our movement is only growing stronger.