Author’s note: At New York’s Coming out of the Shadows rally earlier this spring I had the pleasure of listening to many young activists share really beautiful words about their parents and the sacrifices they make to provide them with more opportunities. While politicians often blame undocumented parents for bringing their children into the United States, young people are talking about the difficult decisions and risks their parents had to take in heartfelt and nuanced ways.
Angy, a member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council, has written a moving poem about her mother and she shares more of their story with Colorlines.com to honor her mother and many women like her. Angy is a student, activist and media maker who writes Ask Angy, the country’s first undocumented youth advice column. Below, Angy shares some of her story and an interview with her mom.
— Monica Novoa
My mother and I landed in New York on August 29, 1993, a week before my third birthday. She didn’t know that starting this day, we would become undocumented. For years I translated the world to my mother, from paperwork to meetings with the landlord. It was difficult for her; she had been valedictorian of her school back home and now, my mother depended on a 6 year old to understand simple things like what my teacher was saying. It wasn’t just the language that was frustrating. With time she came to fully grasp the effect that lacking a social security number would have on us, how that would set us apart from the rest and determine which opportunities we could and couldn’t take.
Media and politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, teach us that youth came here through no fault of their own and if anything, our parents are to blame. Senator Dick Durbin, creator of the Dream Act, always says, “we cannot blame these kids for the mistakes their parents made” and I think it’s time to challenge that. My mother didn’t make a mistake in coming here and she is not to blame for this broken immigration system which is designed to separate families. It’s difficult to get my mom to tell her story, since she is still afraid of coming out to media. So I interviewed her, helping to get her voice heard once again.
Do you have a hero?
I always looked up to Wonder Woman. She’s pretty, strong and odd. Even though she’s different she still fights for justice and she’s confident about herself as well. I didn’t have a TV growing up so at the age of 7 I would sneak out of the house and visit the neighbors so I could watch her.
Q: What are some of your worries for the future? A: I’m scared that the day you become a citizen you’ll become embarrassed of me, or forget where you come from. I feel the same towards your documented siblings: I worry they’ll grow up and turn their back on you or feel better than you. Now, if I was to get documents I want to go on a cruise around the world, somewhere hot. I left Colombia for a reason and I don’t really see myself going back, only to visit.
Mom, have you ever blamed yourself for your immigration status? My immigration status?
No, I’ve never directly blamed myself. I understand that systems are put into place making it difficult and almost impossible to adjust my status. Politicians say a lot of things, and lie a lot so I don’t pay attention to the blame they place on me. However, I do get sad and frustrated watching you struggle with completing school, or finding a job, and I can’t do anything about it. I see you fighting for equal rights, organizing in New York and even getting frustrated with your life. As a mom, my job is to make it all better, but in this situation, I feel powerless.
Do you remember the first time I told you I was going to come out, undocumented and unafraid?
Of course I do, March 9, 2010. You told me you would be coming out in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building. I was always taught to stay in the shadows and keep quiet about our immigration status. My friends even suggested not registering you in school or even picking someone up from the airport because they feared for us. Then you come along and stir every feeling of fear in me. I imagined us getting deported. I’m still scared of that — you’re better protected under this government than I am. I believe you can face and overcome any obstacles, but I worry deportation won’t be one of them.
If you could go back in the time, with the knowledge you have now, would you still come to America?
I was only 22 years old when we came here. I was naive and there were a lot of things I did not think through, I just knew I wanted something better for us. If I could go back in time, I would figure out how to be documented in America. Our future and our lives are here, in New York, I would still come back. The only time I’ve regretted being here was when your grandmother passed away in Colombia and I couldn’t go see her. I considered travelling back to Colombia just for her, but then I asked myself, how would I come back to be with my children?
Was that the harshest experience you faced while being undocumented?
It was difficult for me watching you navigate the college application process. I’ll never forget the day you went to John Jay’s open house, I felt something was wrong so I called you and you were crying. That was the day you found out undocumented students didn’t qualify for federal, or state, financial aid. It’s okay if I’m excluded, mistreated or underpaid, but when these things are done to you, everything changes. I wanted to set fire to the entire school. I was worried you would hurt yourself and I honestly thought you weren’t coming home that day.
I did come home and ironically, I’m attending that same school now. Are you proud?
Angy, there are no words to compliment you or push you to be greater. You’re a force that cannot be reckoned with. No matter what others say, never doubt it. You create your own path if there isn’t one to follow and I think you’re stronger than me. I’ve always been proud of you, you face my fears each day and fight for what you believe in. You’re paving the way for many and even though I don’t see you enough because of your organizing work, I know it’s the right thing to do.
Sometimes, I get jealous that you’re able to wake up extra early when it comes to panels, events or meetings and when it’s a family trip on Sunday morning you’re not capable of getting out of bed. The only way I can support you is by feeding you and sometimes that’s difficult when you’re not home. I’ve even thought about telling you to stop volunteering because at the end of the day I’m still a mom, I’m scared you’ll be deported, but I know this is something you’re passionate about.