Drop the I-Word is featuring “I Am…” stories every day this week in honor of Coming Out of the Shadows Week and in collaboration with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Today’s story comes from Dayanna Rebolledo in Michigan. Young people are facilitating a supportive process for coming out as undocumented and unafraid. As more young people come out, the larger immigrant rights movement will grow. As Rebolledo tells us, “I remember just sitting there thinking, ‘One day I will be sharing my story, and I will not be ashamed of being undocumented.’ It is now over a year later and I am no longer ashamed, nor afraid of being undocumented.”
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 National Immigrant Youth Alliance and DreamActivist.org for connecting us with Rebolledo.
I Am Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic
My name is Dayanna Rebolledo and I am undocumented. I came to the United States when I was 9 years old. Growing up, I always knew I was undocumented but through most of my childhood, that was something I would rather forget about. I didn’t understand the meaning of being undocumented until my senior year of high school.
Being undocumented meant I couldn’t get my driver’s license, I couldn’t go to college, and it also meant that my dreams of becoming a teacher would have to be put on hold. It also meant I would have to tell multiple lies to my friends to explain why I wasn’t attending the schools to which I was accepted, why I couldn’t go on a cruise to the Bahamas with them, and why I could not do many other things. People say senior year of high school is supposed to be the best year of your life, but how do you make the best of it when you are constantly reminded you are not welcome in the place you consider home?
I am not good at giving up, especially not on my dreams. I told myself many times that not having a Social Security number was not going to stop me from making my dreams a reality. I worked two jobs after high school to save money to pay for my first semester of community college. Finally, it was the winter of 2009 and we had the money to send me to college, and I remember telling my mom how excited I was about the classes I was going to be taking and how much fun I was going to have. Our bank account was wiped out that winter, but somehow I was able to save tuition money on time to start school. I still felt very empty and being undocumented was something I never talked about with anyone.
A few months later, I heard about a “DREAM camp” here in Michigan where youth from all over the state would gather and learn about the DREAM Act. It was also the first time I heard a student share his story, and I remember just sitting there thinking, “One day I will be sharing my story, and I will not be ashamed of being undocumented.” It is now over a year later and I am no longer ashamed, nor afraid of being undocumented.
It’s so important that we claim our human dignity in this environment that tries to take it away. The first time someone called me “illegal” was last year on May 1, while I was doing an interview for a local station as we were getting ready for an event called the “Avenue of Dreams.” The people who use the word “illegals” promote hate and racism. Using the word “illegal” allows others to make undocumented people feel like they are not valued. When people notice the government and media use the word “illegal” to describe human beings, it makes it acceptable for everybody else to use it as well. Media and government need to be more responsible to the community and to set a professional and ethical example.