Her Story: I’m an Illegal Immigrant at an Ivy League School

Posted Aug 25 2013 - 7:00pm

In my earliest memories, I am spinning. My eyes are glued to a sea of stormy skies and beneath my feet the packed earth smells of the coming rain. I am in Mexico. I am surrounded by laughter, and I bathe happily in the warmth of my family’s bubbling Spanish speech. I am home.


Then, life goes on fast-forward. My father had been in the United States for the first eight years of my life, visiting only a couple times per year, before deciding it was time that our family should be reunited. I remember my mother asking me if I wanted to go the U.S. I remember, more importantly, only thinking how exciting it would be to have a family that was always together. Months later, our suitcases were packed, and we passed the border as my little sister and I napped in the backseat of a car. We entered illegally into the United States, though then, as now, I did not understand how a human being could be illegal. All I knew was that I would have my mother and my father in this wondrous place talked about in longing whispers back home. Oh, but no, I had to remind myself, this was my home now.

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Nothing was harder than being submerged unaware into a sea of cold English syllables. In the days before coming to the U.S., my mother had proudly shown me my Mexican report card. I had perfect grades. It was then with incredible confusion that I saw my English scores in the United States sink dismally low. But I learned, because I had to. I learned English at what I’m told was a remarkable pace. I became a little prodigy, and I proved to myself and to my mother that I was still smart and that I could not only float but swim in this foreign American culture. I was in all the advanced classes offered at my school. Simply because of the rural South’s lack of diversity, all of my friends were white, and for years I struggled to balance being a normal "American" girl with the silent demands from my family that I remain Mexican. But I felt American.

It was so easy to pretend for years that everything was normal. I was in high school, and I had a boyfriend. I won academic awards, and I was thought to be a good artist in my community and in school competitions. None of my friends or teachers knew I was undocumented, and I led a very sheltered life, never actually feeling the sting of prejudice that I know many people in my position have dealt with. I did not have a driver’s license, but I never needed one. After all, my friends and family were always around to take me wherever I needed to be. I was, outside of this particular circumstance, very happy. High school was a great experience for me... until I had to begin applying to college. Then, during my senior year, I learned the best and most heartbreaking news of my life: I had gotten into an Ivy League school.

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